National Press at warmwell.com NEWS ARCHIVES back to 28th April ~ BEST of the PRESS
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Newspaper Archive ended October 2002. After that, relevant items in the press were commented on in the daily update.
Government sued over foot and mouth billBy David Harrison, Environment Correspondent
Dozens of firms plan to take legal action against the Government because they are still owed millions of pounds for clean-up work during last year's foot and mouth crisis.
More than 100 contractors have not been paid for invoices totalling more than £400 million, according to the Government's own figures. Many told The Telegraph that they would have to go to court or face bankruptcy.
The companies accused the Government of failing to honour contracts signed 18 months ago when ministers urged them to halt the spread of disease.....more
Oct 13 02
Watson: 'I wish I'd never started hunt ban'HAMISH MACDONELL SCOTTISH POLITICAL EDITOR
LORD Watson, the Labour MSP responsible for making fox hunting illegal in Scotland, wished he had never started the ban" in the first place, it was claimed last night.
Two of his constituents have come forward to claim he told them at a surgery that he regretted piloting the controversial bill through the Scottish Parliament. Jacqueline Prosser and Billy Shaw, both from Lord Watsons Glasgow Cathcart constituency, said he wished he "had never started" the process because it caused so much trouble.
Ms Prosser said Lord Watson - a close ally of Jack McConnell, the First Minister - also admitted to introducing the legislation because he wished to follow advice given to all Labour MSPs by Donald Dewar. The late first minister told his MSPs that they should all do something to get noticed.
She said she had even advised Lord Watson to "do a U-turn" and walk away from the bill, arguing this would generate more respect in the community than pursuing the contentious proposals through parliament. The claims from Lord Watsons constituents represent a significant blow to the anti-hunt campaign, particularly in England, where the legislation he piloted is being used to justify similar moves.
Angry pro-hunt supporters seized on the remarks, demanding to know why Lord Watson had pursued his controversial bill. Lord Watson, who is now minister for tourism and sport, has always made it clear that he objects strongly to fox hunting, but has denied previously claims that he wished he had never introduced his bill.
He said of the latest revelations: "I do not recall the conversation and I will not discuss a conversation I had a year ago."
However, Ms Prosser, who once stood for the Liberal Democrats in a council election but insists she is not political any more, said the surgery meeting had taken place at the Couper Institute in Cathcart, about one year ago.
She said: "I asked him about fox hunting. He admitted in front of three of us, his constituents, that he wished he had never started the fox-hunting ban."......
Oct 9 02
FARMING IS FACING A CROSSROADS09:00 - 08 October 2002
Western Morning News
No one in the Westcountry needs reminding of the heartache suffered by farmers in the darkest days of the foot and mouth crisis.
But one year on, as farmers restock and attempt to rebuild their lives, British agriculture still remains painfully fragile. The statistics tell a harsh tale - the numbers simply do not add up to a viable income for many farmers, especially those with smaller properties.
EATING OUR OWN PRODUCE IS VITAL09:00 - 08 October 2002 Westcountry MEP, farmer, and Conservative agriculture spokesman
Western Morning News
There is no doubt that farming is on the verge of collapse, and with rural incomes and optimism in the future at an all time low, many of our farmers in the South West see little prospect of survival.
Yet there is reason to believe that we can make a future for ourselves if the right decisions are made. Firstly, our farmers deserve to have their ideas and their proposals heard by those in Whitehall. All around Europe, agriculture is valued enough to be listened to and promoted by those in government.
It is hard to see the farmers in France being so roundly ignored and dismissed by the French government. Given the opportunity, farmers in the UK have as much flair, entrepreneurship and business acumen as the dot.com gurus and high-tech business leaders who seem so important to Tony Blair. However, there are a number of key areas where if they wanted to, the Government could help us over this current problem....more
Oct 3 02
FIGHTBACK AGAINST ALL THE ODDS09:00 - 08 October 2002 Beef farmer Richard Haddock has been through hell and beyond.
Western Morning News
Mr Haddock, 44, from Kingswear in South Devon, lost 150 animals during the foot and mouth crisis, although ironically none of them was infected with the disease.
But his troubles began in 1995, when he discovered that an animal he had bought was infected with BSE. He immediately lost a lucrative contract exporting his stock to Germany. By the end of 1996, his business had recorded a loss of £170,000.
"It nearly bankrupted us," he recalled. "We had to cut right back, and stopped buying new machinery - we were just selling whatever we could for whatever we could get. "And then, when we were starting to climb our way out, foot and mouth came along." Mr Haddock's farm was in one of the first areas of Devon to be affected by foot and mouth disease.
Although his animals escaped the cull that swept neighbouring farms, Mr Haddock was not allowed to leave his farm for three weeks. Eventually, dire shortages of animal fodder meant that 150 of the older cows had to be slaughtered - most of whom were pregnant.
"We held out for as long as we could, but my vet said we had no chance," said Mr Haddock. "We couldn't get a movement licence, so we weren't allowed to take the animals anywhere. "We normally have 350 suckling calves, but this year only 200 were born because we only had 200 cows. "We missed a year's calving - it's the problem of the knock-on effect."
Mr Haddock, who is the National Farmers' Union (NFU) livestock representative for the South West, is now looking to the future. "After BSE, I decided that we had to take charge beyond the farmgate," he said.
With other local farmers, he set up the Triple S Ranch meat processing plant, which has been a huge success. In the last 18 months, the co-operative plant's turnover has soared from £300,000 to £4 million.
Mr Haddock believes that Margaret Beckett should talk less and act more by encouraging this kind of project. "We have done this without an iota of help from the Government," he said. "We are not asking for anything for free, but we do want loans, advice and a bit of help."
Oct 8 02
Ease movement rules, say ToriesBy Isabel Davies in Bournemouth
TORY rural affairs spokesman David Lidington has called for animal movement restrictions to be reduced from 20 days to six. Mr Lidington said standstill rules preventing farmers from selling animals for 20 days after stock are brought onto a farm, were intolerable.
The restrictions were introduced to stop diseases such as foot-and-mouth from spreading after livestock movements were blamed for exacerbating last year's epidemic.
Policy makers had to stop loading regulations onto farmers and the 20-day rule was a good example of one regulation that should be relaxed, said Mr Lidington.
"There is an overwhelming case for that limit to be reduced," he told a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference on Monday (7 October). "It is arrogant in the extreme for government to be lecturing farmers on biosecurity when they have failed to maintain biosecurity at ports and airports."
A six-day restriction on movements would be a compromise between disease protection and normal market movements, Mr Lidington told delegates in Bournemouth.
An element of this involved working to reduce the burden of government and regulation on farmers, said Mr Lidington. "We have to help reconnect farmers with their customer and part of that is to get government off farmers' backs," he said. "There has got to be a drive to reduce red tape."
CLA president Edward Greenwell stressed it was important people did not try to downplay the importance of the farming industry because of what was built upon it.
The food that was produced in the UK was the basis of a huge processing and packaging industry many times the size of farming, said Sir Edward. "If you lose primary production from the UK be very sure that those industries will follow with a far bigger impact on our economy than anyone normally acknowledges."
Oct 7 02
FIVE RURAL ISSUES THE WMN SAYS MARGARET BECKETT MUST TACKLE09:00 - 07 October 2002 Margaret Beckett's performance at the Labour Party conference last week was a bitter disappointment to rural dwellers who believe she is not doing anything to earn her title of Rural Affairs Secretary. In a series continuing throughout this week, the WMN will outline the issues the Minister should be addressing..... (See more):
Western Morning News
NOW YOU MUST ACT ON COUNTRYSIDE ISSUES09:00 - 07 October 2002 Everyone agrees that the problems besetting rural England are complex and deep-rooted.
Western Moming News
But it is the Government's seeming inability and lack of desire to change matters that continues to infuriate country people.
Rural Secretary Margaret Beckett was last week accused of treating the countryside with contempt after her keynote speech at the Labour Party conference failed to address any of the issues plaguing rural areas.
It was Mrs Beckett who claimed at the European Parliament's inquiry into the foot and mouth crisis that she had never heard of a bungled cull in the Devon parish of Knowstone.
It was also Mrs Beckett who dismissed Devon's foot and mouth inquiry as meaningless and "purely local."
Now the Western Morning News is challenging Mrs Beckett's ineptitude. All this week we will be highlighting the problems faced by rural communities and examining the ways in which they can be solved, in other words doing Mrs Beckett's job for her. (read on)
Oct 7 02
Adapt or quit, farmers are toldFordyce Maxwell Rural Affairs Editor
Professor Phil Thomas has a message for farmers. It is that British farming is slightly bigger than Morrisons, the smallest of the six big supermarket groups, and rather smaller than Somerfield in fifth place.
But not all of his speech to an Anglo/Scottish Borders conference was as bleak as that. Some parts were bleaker as he put his theme of a future for food and farming in the region into a world context.
Describing a speech as "thought provoking" should not be done lightly, but the former head of the Scottish Agricultural College who chaired this years inquiry into foot-and-mouth disease in Cumbria gave a talk to decision-makers in the Borders, Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway and Northumberland which was precisely that.
Following is an outline of what he said.
Oct 7 02
Re: To renew or not?Date: 6 October 2002
As a National Farmers' Union (NFU) member of 54 years, and a former branch chairman, I was amused by the dismissive response (Letters, September 29) from the NFU's Director-General (no less!) to Christopher Booker's splendid article (News, September 22).
What has happened to the NFU in the past year or two is that there has been an almost complete erosion of democratic principles. "Director-General", indeed. This high-faluting title is duplicated by "Regional-Directors" and, under them, "Policy-Directors". What has happened to the annual general meeting, at which NFU policies were democratically determined?
Well, er, there is a sort of annual "conference", but county branch executive meetings are a thing of the past. And local branches never meet now. They don't even exist. But the NFU president himself can relax. If he "keeps his nose clean" and doesn't make waves, he could find himself in the next Honours List. It is the usual thing.
My problem is this: should I renew my annual subscription?
From: Malcolm Kidd, Lazonby, Cumbria
Oct 6 02
Dispute over evidence of badgers' guiltBy Mark Henderson, Science Correspondent
BOVINE TUBERCULOSIS is caused by the organism Mycobacterium bovis, a relative of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis organism that provokes TB in human beings. While relatively harmless to humans, as meat and pasteurised milk from infected cattle are safe to consume, the bacterium is endemic in several kinds of British wildlife, particularly badgers. This has provoked a bitter scientific controversy about the role of these animals in spreading the disease in livestock.
Interest in the role of badgers in bovine TB began in the 1970s, when the disease, which had virtually been eradicated from the British herd, began to reappear.
Farmers and epidemiologists noted a correlation between a increase in badger numbers after the 1973 Badger Protection Act and a rising incidence of infection in cattle. The discovery of an infected dead badger on an infected farm further suggested a link.
Scientists were unable to make a firm connection. However, a further increase in badger numbers occurred after the Badger Protection Act of 1992. The population rose by an estimated 80 per cent, according to the National Farmers Union. At the same time, the number of infected herds doubled to more than 1,000.
In 1997, research by Professor Sir John Krebs, now chairman of the Food Standards Agency, found "compelling evidence that badgers are a significant source of infection". The result was a £34 million government study that began in 1998 and is known as the "Krebs trial". It is investigating whether local culls of badgers have a significant effect on the incidence of TB in cattle.
Ten trial sites in the West Country were selected, in which badgers are trapped and shot, and the impact on TB rates assessed. The trial was due to finish next year, but it was disrupted by last years foot-and-mouth outbreak, which limited researchers ability to find and trap badgers. It has yet to resume in earnest.
The continuing lack of evidence for a link has only fed the controversy. Animal welfare and conservation associations, such as the National Federation of Badger Groups, argue that even the experimental cull is unjustified.
Bovine TB is much more likely to be transmitted by the movement of infected cattle, which are rarely tested for the illness when sold. Campaigners also say that little is known about other types of wildlife, such as deer, which can transmit the bacterium.
Farmers and advocates of the Krebs trial say that the correlation between rising badger numbers and the rising incidence of bovine TB appears to be too close to be a coincidence, and that the experimental culls are necessary to find out whether there is a link.
As there is no effective test for the disease in live badgers, they say culling is essential to judge the extent of infection in badger populations.
Last year,a study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society. It added weight to the claims of cull supporters, as it found evidence that badgers forage in cattle sheds and feed troughs.
There are an estimated 300,000 badgers in Britain, according to the most recent survey from 1997. Under current legislation, farmers can apply to the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for permission to cull badgers or move setts that cause damage to buildings or crops, or to protect against bovine TB. No licences for TB culls have been granted since Labour came to power in 1997.
Oct 5 02
3,000 cattle herds under strict surveillance as TB escalatesBy Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor BRITAIN is facing its most serious outbreak of tuberculosis in cattle for more than 35 years after confirmation that the disease has spread to the Midlands and northern England. Official figures to the end of August show that 3,022 herds are under strict government surveillance, compared to 1,908 two years ago. An increase had been predicted because of the suspension of bovine TB testing during last years foot-and-mouth outbreak, but the figures mask an even bleaker trend. The number of animals going down with the disease on each farm has risen from an average of two to between eight and ten. Since January 12,323 cattle have been slaughtered compared with 4,827 two years ago.
Particularly worrying is the diseasse's spread from its traditional pockets in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Hereford, and Worcester. It has expanded throughout the West Country and moved north into Shropshire, Cheshire, Lancashire and Cumbria, east to Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire, and, in Wales, it has moved from the border area to parts of the west and southwest. There are also 85 cases in Scotland, not traditionally a centre for the disease. Every infected farm is losing money and disease controls make it impossible to cover costs.
The rapid escalation of the disease has alarmed farmers' leaders and the European Union and there have been calls for more regular testing. That, however, would add extra costs to the hard-pressed Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Defra has already proposed that tests should be carried out not by vets in private practice, but by lower salaried animal health officials.
Because of the backlog in routine testing after the foot-and-mouth outbreak, there are still 15,576 farms in need of checking. Even though Elliot Morley, the Animal Health Minister, announced an extra £3 million to deal with the testing in July, it could take another six months to clear.
There is no threat to general human health -- pasteurisation kills any bacteria in milk and proper cooking destroys it in meat -- but the NFU is concerned that, with such a high reservoir of the disease in cattle and other wildlife, there could be higher risks to farmers and farm workers.
There is a unanimous feeling in the farming industry that the Government must act to deal with the vast reservoir of TB in wildlife, particularly badgers. Ministers are under pressure to introduce new measures in advance of the Krebs trials, set up to establish a proven link between badgers and the incidence of bovine TB. But Mr Morley has refused to allow any cull of diseased badgers in blackspot areas until the outcome of the trials is known.
The minister is, however, attempting to limit the effects of the disease on farmers. He is expected to announce a policy U-turn next week, allowing some farmers to continue trading even if their herds are subject to surveillance.
Dick Sibley, for the British Cattle Veterinary Society, said yesterday: "We just cannot wait four or five years for an outcome to Krebs or 20 years for a vaccine. Something must be done. Most of the government measures seem to be about reducing losses on farms with TB, but it would be better if the disease was prevented. It is obvious there is a wildlife reservoir and to ignore it is stupid. We need radical control and it will need some culling."
Neil Cutler, chairman of the NFU's animal health committee, said: "The Government refuses to do more until a result of Krebs. By then the disease will have spread throughout the country."
Oct 5 02
MEP report calls for vaccinationA FORTY-POINT plan to avoid a repeat of the foot-and-mouth crisis calls for improved border protection and increased use of vaccination. The draft report by a European parliament's temporary committee, points to numerous weaknesses in the UK government's response to the outbreak.
Farmers Weekly interactive
In particular, it refers to shortcomings in the contingency plans, inadequate staffing levels, and delays in imposing movement restrictions. It also criticises violations of animal welfare legislation and intimidation of farmers by those involved in the cull.
"These shortcomings caused considerable stress among those concerned, many of whom were still suffering psychologically months after the crisis," says the draft. The report calls for emergency vaccination to become "the first choice option" when an outbreak occurs. It will still be necessary to have a stamping out policy on infected farms, but beyond that animals should be allowed to live.
Report author, Wolfgang Kreissl-Dorfler said current slaughter-based controls assigned "undue priority to the trade policy aspects".
More attention should be paid to the social and psychological impact of foot-and-mouth. But the report dismisses a return to general prophylactic vaccination. "This is not yet an option to aspire to, because there are seven different stereotypes which cannot be tackled by a single vaccination." It goes on to make a number of suggestions as to how border controls can be tightened, including extra customs staff at airports and increased use of sniffer dogs.
There is also a real need for member states to improve disease monitoring and revamp their foot-and-mouth contingency plans. In future, European Union compensation should be conditional on member states having applied the rules properly. Committee members gave their broad support to the draft, but some Green MEPs wanted the wording toughened up on the role of vaccination.
However, Labour MEP Gordon Adam felt it was too critical of the UK government.
The report will be finalised by the temporary committee in November and adopted by the full parliament in December. By then, commission proposals for a new F&M directive should have been issued, including many of the suggestions now emerging from the parliament.
Oct 3 02
FARMING LEADERS BACK EU REPORTNATHAN PYNN
Western Morning News
09:00 - 03 October 2002 Farming leaders joined yesterday in condemnation of the Government's handling of the foot and mouth crisis and urged the Prime Minister to take heed of the draft EU inquiry released earlier this week.
The final findings of the report will not be known until later this year but already the draft document drawn up by a special European Parliament committee of inquiry has been endorsed by farming leaders across the Westcountry who have criticised the Government's handling of the crisis.
Anthony Gibson, regional director for the South West National Farmers' Union, said he supported the vast majority of the report. "The report does not put the boot into the Government for its handling of foot and mouth unduly," he said. "It does recommend that vaccination should be a first resort and not a last resort and that there should be no more pyres."
Farmers have interpreted the draft report as vindication for constant calls for a public inquiry.
David Handley, of Farmers For Action, has been campaigning for the Government to hold a full public inquiry. "This report shows exactly what the farmers have been saying from the outset about the Government's handling of the whole foot and mouth outbreak.
"I think the only decent thing the Government can do now is to give everyone in the country who was affected by the crisis an official apology. "The Government bungled their way through the foot and mouth outbreak from start to finish and this report shows just how wrong they were. "We have always said that vaccination was the best way forward and this report has agreed with us." Richard Haddock, a beef farmer at Kingsweare, South Devon, said he wanted to see farmers properly compensated.
"We lost 150 animals in all and were put on a D-notice last year. I don't think the Government has learnt anything and nothing will change unless they take action now to stop sources of foot and mouth entering the country."
The committee, which has been collating evidence from various sources, has sat since January. One of the most poignant moments during the consultation process was a series of meetings held at Knowstone, North Devon.
The village was at the centre of a bungled cull during the foot and mouth crisis which saw many farmers bullied into having their animals slaughtered.
Neil Parish, Conservative MEP and agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament, said the report findings were surprisingly strong.
"The author of the report, Wolfgang Kreissl-Dorfler, is a German socialist and it was known that Labour sent Lord Whitty over to try to make him put in the report what the British Government wanted. "It is an absolute condemnation on the handling of the foot and mouth crisis by the Government. Knowstone was probably the first time the MEPs really saw the human suffering which took place during the crisis. This has had a big influence over the report so far." The draft report will go before committee before being published in December.
Oct 3 02
Blair's letter sidesteps rural rowProtest march was a credit to Countryside Alliance, says PM
Anne Perkins, political correspondent Saturday September 28, 2002 The Guardian
Tony Blair has backed away from confrontation with the Countryside Alliance, telling its chairman, John Jackson, that last Sunday's demonstration was "a credit" to the pro-hunting organisation.
In a letter that appears to seek to isolate the question of a hunting ban from wider issues of of rural decline, Mr Blair said: "While you will not be surprised to learn that I did not agree with some of the views expressed during the march, the numbers involved, and the way those took part behaved, was certainly a credit to your organisation."
After a week that began with news that the Prince of Wales had complained privately to the prime minister at the unfairness of a hunt ban, Mr Blair said that he "strongly believed in continuing dialogue, not confrontation".
Alun Michael, minister for rural affairs and the minister directly concerned with the issue, later stressed that he had found this month's three-day evidence session on hunting "important and illuminating". Alliance supporters regard the sessions as a fig leaf for preparation for an outright ban.
Last weekend, Mr Michael (said to be irritated the alliance was demanding action in many areas where the government had already intervened) sounded dismissive of Sunday's demonstration that brought 400,000 to London. He said it was "confused" and he did not know what it was about. Downing Street supported the off-hand approach, which disappointed alliance leaders who had hoped for some kind of olive branch.
In his letter, Mr Blair acknowledged "this has been a difficult period for people living in rural communities", and recognised that hunting was only one of "a broader range of issues and views - matters which have been brought into particular focus by the impact of foot and mouth disease both on farming and the tourism industry in rural areas". .......
Oct 2 02
MEPs slate foot and mouth cullAndrew Osborn in Brussels Wednesday October 2, 2002 The Guardian
The government's decision to slaughter 6.5m animals during the foot and mouth outbreak is unlikely to have done anything to halt the spread of the disease, an inquiry by MEPs has concluded.
In the most damning assessment of the government's handling of the crisis to date, a committee of inquiry set up by the European parliament has produced a draft report which claims that much of the strategy for tackling the disease was deeply flawed.
It has been shrugged off by the government but seized upon by Tories and Green campaigners. It is "a damning indictment of the way the government responded to the crisis", Caroline Lucas, the inquiry's vice-president and a Green party MEP for south-east England, said yesterday.
The report claims the slaughter of 6.5m animals last year achieved little or nothing and may have violated animal welfare laws. In future emergency vaccination and not mass slaughter should be the "control measure of first choice".
Other complaints include that the army was drafted in too late to help with culling, and farmers faced too much red tape before they could get compensation.
Oct 2 02
Court told of sheep shooting distress
An "inexperienced" slaughterman shot "willy-nilly, like a shooting gallery" at a field of stray sheep during the foot-and-mouth crisis, a court has heard. Adrian Walker, 33, was employed by Monmouthshire Council to cull animals which had broken livestock movement restrictions - put in place to try and halt the spread of last year's outbreak.
Movement of sheep was restricted at the time
He was stopped from taking shots at the flock herded in a field at Gilwern, near Abergavenny, at the height of the crisis last April, after villagers raised concerns over what was happening.
The shooting was captured by a resident on a video camera and is likely to be shown to the jury later on Tuesday.
Twenty one ewes and 11 lambs had been rounded-up in a field when Mr Walker, from Grosmont, near Abergavenny, shot the first ewe near the gate. He then started to shoot the sheep in the field from a distance of about 30 metres, said Philip Marshall, prosecuting.
The recommended distance for killing sheep through the head was at a range of 25 centimetres.
"Residents were watching as this was occurring," Mr Marshall said. "Some will say that he was firing willy-nilly, like a shooting gallery," he said. One sheep was apparently shot up to three times before it died. After "clearly distressed" people living close to the field voiced concerns, the animals were taken to a nearby barn and killed.
Mr Marshall said the local authority had taken on Mr Walker - who denies two charges of breaching health and safety regulations - to kill stray animals during the disease outbreak.
A butcher by trade, he already had a slaughterman's licence and a firearms certificate. He had brought a .22 calibre rifle for the marksman's job, and police had amended his firearms certificate accordingly.
But Mr Walker was inexperienced, the prosecution allege, both in using the weapon and in shooting unrestrained animals. "He should not have agreed to the job and the county council should not have employed him," Mr Marshall told the jury. The trial continues at Cardiff Crown Court.
posted Oct 2 02
DESPAIR AND DISBELIEF OVER LATEST GOVERNMENT SNUB TO FARMERSMembers of Parliament representing rural constituencies in the Westcountry said last night that they were dismayed but not surprised by the dismissive attitude of Tony Blair and Margaret Beckett.
Western Morning News
North Cornwall Liberal Democrat MP Paul Tyler said: "I think the Blair Government has lost the plot as far as farming is concerned. "There is a clear case for saying bring back Nick Brown as Minister for Agriculture. "Mr Brown had the inestimable advantage that he did not pretend to know it all.
"He listened carefully and tried to make sure that our message got through to Whitehall.
"It was one of the great unfair tragedies of modern politics that he took the rap for the Government's incompetence on foot and mouth."
Mr Tyler warned: "If Mr Blair's Government don't grab hold of the appalling problems facing our farmers, and worst of all the Euro discrepancy, then we are doomed to seeing more and more farmers going out of business and more and more acres of our countryside reverting to unmanaged wilderness."
He added: "I was one of the marchers in London on September 22. "What struck me was that there were people there not just in response to what has happened to farms and rural communities in the last two years but in the last two decades.
"They are in despair that successive governments have been so urban-biased that they are not even prepared to try and listen."
Hugo Swire, East Devon Conservative MP, said: "You have to give Mrs Beckett marks for arrogance.
"She was arrogant over foot and mouth, arrogant when she was asked to set up an independent inquiry and has not apologised for anything. "To me she is a deeply flawed Minister with no love, no empathy and no understanding of the problems we face in the countryside.
"Without a doubt she is a below par Minister.
"Well in excess of 400,000 people took part in the Liberty and Livelihood march in London.
"Judging by the response of various members of the Labour Government you begin to wonder whether this Government is made up of Ministers who want to govern the whole country or just some of it.
"They seem to be doing their level best to alienate even their own supporters in the countryside. "They don't understand the countryside, they don't want to understand it, they just don't like it."
South-East Cornwall MP Colin Breed, the Liberal Democrat Party's spokesman for agriculture and rural affairs, commented: "What has been said, and not been said, at Blackpool today does not come as a complete surprise to me.
"Mrs Beckett has consistently refused to meet myself or my colleagues to discuss issues relating to her portfolio, of which agriculture is a very important part.
"She seems determined to close down any debate or discussion as something which is the fault of globalisation and world markets and which in her view has very little to do with her department.
"She is totally wrong about that.
"Although the Government has commissioned various reports following foot and mouth, they have failed to implement any direct action to alleviate the obvious problem of falling farm incomes.
"For her to say that we have to wait for a mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy next year overlooks the fact that is unlikely to produce anything significant.
"We could be waiting another three years for major changes. "In the meantime, it is quite clear that if the Government does not act soon then the small farmers who predominate in Devon and Cornwall are going to slowly disappear. "They cannot continue to operate their businesses at a loss. "We are gradually losing our domestic food production and relying more and more on imports."
Mr Breed added: "The Government has tried to ignore the fact that over 400,000 people decided for whatever reason to go to London and hold a protest about all sorts of issues, of which hunting was just one. "It is pretending that this does not matter. That is ridiculous." North Devon Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey said: "The Government seems to be living on another planet.
"The fact that more than 400,000 people took to the streets of London in one of the biggest demonstrations that city has ever seen is not scoring on their radar.
"This indifference to an entire chunk of the nation makes a mockery of their 'one-nationism', if one can call it that. "They are cavalier and impervious to any criticism."
North Devon farmer Bill Norman said British farmers would be quite happy for subsidies to stop if this was also applied to American and European rivals who currently had major advantages and could undercut the British market.
Mr Norman said: "We just hope that we can last out until we see the back of this Government."
Oct 2 02
Oct 1 ~ News of the EU Temporary Committee into FMDan inquiry concluded that the culling of more than 6.5 million animals may have played no real role in curbing the spread of the disease. Today's Independent "Draft conclusions from a committee of MEPs lists sweeping criticisms of government policy and suggests that, in future, vaccination should be considered much earlier in an outbreak...In particular the document argued that the controversial culling policy may, in effect, have been unnecessary.
"It remains controversial and doubtful whether the 24/48 hours contiguous cull strategy was really responsible for curbing the epidemic [halting the increase in the number of cases and bringing about a decrease]," the document stated. "Apart from any other consideration, in many cases it proved impossible to carry out the culls on neighbouring farms within 48 hours."
The conclusions of the rapporteur of the parliament's temporary committee, Wolfgang Kreissl-Dvrfler, make frank criticisms of the Government's handling of the outbreak, which brought economic devastation to much of the countryside. ..."
This is the general message of most of the papers (even the Express manages "Government slammed over farm virus") who report the EU Inquiry draft. An interesting exception is the Financial Times. John Mason, Food and Rural Affairs Correspondent begins, "Tourism and other industries hit by future outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe should receive compensation similar to farmers ...." He chooses to ignore the criticisms directed at the UK government for the way its policies traumatised farmers and broke animal welfare laws. Instead, he pursues the line that it was not fair that "other sectors of the economy - particularly tourism - are compelled to foot the bill for their own losses arising from this policy." This is, of course, true enough - but the report is odd in disregarding the condemnatory tone of the EU report. The Times report of the EU draft document: Ministers made outbreak worse, say MEPs".... In individual cases it was also reported that farmers affected had been intimidated and pressurised in connection with the culls," the report says.
"These shortcomings caused considerable stress among those concerned, many of whom were still suffering psychologically as a result months after the crisis."
Interestingly, it is the DailyMail report that is chosen for the EPP-Ed (European Parliament) group news page.
"Britain's handling of the foot and mouth crisis was branded cruel, incompetent and confused ......apparent attempts by the government to stifle the EU committee findings have failed..." Sean Poulter's forthright article : "Britain's handling of the foot and mouth crisis was branded cruel, incompetent and confused yesterday. The report of an EU investigation into last year's alert reveals the lack of a valid contingency plan, crippling bureaucracy and animal suffering on a massive scale. ...Farmers were bullied into allowing their livestock to be killed, the report says, while many of the animals suffered at the hands of poorly-trained slaughtermen.
It suggests that apparent attempts by the government to stifle the EU committee findings have failed. Agriculture Minister Lord Whitty visited the committee chairman, German Social Democrat MEP Wolfgang Kreissl-Doerfler, before the inquiry to put his Government's case. But the report pulls no punches over official involvement....One of the most damning findings is that the strategy of a mass cull probably did not work. The crisis could have been eased with vaccinations, the report says, but the Government bowed to pressure..."
Government slammed over farm virusA new report into the foot-and-mouth outbreak gives a damning appraisal of the Government's handling of the crisis.
A draft document drawn up by a special European Parliament committee of inquiry blames officialdom for adding to farmers' woes with red tape and bureaucratic delays in dealing with the disposal of slaughtered animals.
It also condemns Government information and says the slimming down of the state veterinary service over a 20-year period "weakened the capacity for responding to the crisis".
The report is the first result of the year-long inquiry, in which a cross-party panel of MEPs has been taking evidence with a remit to assess the response to the disease and how to handle any future outbreaks.
Dr Caroline Lucas, the inquiry's vice president and Green Party MEP for South East England, said: "The report is a damning indictment of the way the Government responded to the crisis.
"The British Government opposed the inquiry, just as it opposed any public inquiry into the outbreak at a domestic level, but I hope it will listen and learn.
Tory agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament Neil Parish said: "This report represents explosive evidence that the Government got it wrong with the foot-and-mouth crisis. This report contains more criticism of the UK Government than of all other governments put together.
"Their stubbornness at the time of the crisis hasn't changed, they still refuse to listen to the needs of our rural communities."
The inquiry is still going on and the final report will be published after further proposals from committee members. However, it has no legal force and its recommendations are not binding.
The author, Wolfgang Kreissl-Dorfler, strongly criticises the Government for not having contingency plans ready for a "serious and extensive" outbreak of foot and mouth.
Oct 2 02
Cull of 6.5m animals 'may not have affected' spread of foot-and-mouthBy Stephen Castle in Brussels 01 October 2002 Britain's handling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic faced devastating criticism last night when an inquiry concluded that the culling of more than 6.5 million animals many have played no real role in curbing the spread of the disease.
Draft conclusions from a committee of MEPs lists sweeping criticisms of government policy and suggests that, in future, vaccination should be considered much earlier in an outbreak.
In particular the document argued that the controversial culling policy may, in effect, have been unnecessary.
"It remains controversial and doubtful whether the 24/48 hours contiguous cull strategy was really responsible for curbing the epidemic [halting the increase in the number of cases and bringing about a decrease]," the document stated. "Apart from any other consideration, in many cases it proved impossible to carry out the culls on neighbouring farms within 48 hours."
The conclusions of the rapporteur of the parliament's temporary committee, Wolfgang Kreissl-Dvrfler, make frank criticisms of the Government's handling of the outbreak, which brought economic devastation to much of the countryside.
Among other issues it highlights the poor quality of contingency planning, the delay in calling in the Army, and the lack of information and of resources deployed to combat the crisis.
Neil Parish, the agricultural spokesman for the Conservatives in the European Parliament, said: "This report represents explosive evidence that the Government just got it wrong with the foot-and-mouth crisis in the UK. The report contains more criticism of the UK government than of all other governments put together. Their stubbornness at the time of the crisis hasn't changed, they still refuse to listen to the needs of our rural communities."
MEPs have spent months inquiring into the outbreak across Europe and made visits to the affected areas.
Although the report concluded that the UK could not have predicted the scale of the outbreak, it argued that contingency plans should have included "options for action if the reality were to prove even worse than the assumed 'worst-case' scenario."
It added that, in retrospect, "an immediate nationwide ban on transporting FMD-susceptible animals would have been appropriate when the first case of FMD was detected in the United Kingdom", although it accepted that "large sections of the population would have considered this disproportionate at the time".
Oct 2 02
Waste feed confusion reignsTHE effectiveness of the ban on swill feeding is thrown into doubt by EU regulations
Sept 30 02
D-Day for Northampton marketBy Simon Wragg
FARMERS hoping to save Northampton market must make an offer by Monday (30 September), or the auction will be closed.
Andrew Cowling, chairman of the board of directors of Northamptonshire Auctions, said the market would probably shut for good at the end of October. "Unless we have received a bid from the consortium by the end of this month (Monday, 30 September), then we would not be interested in hearing from the group. "We intend to close the business on 31 October and there are a number of steps that have to be taken - including redundancies - that must be put in place."
Northamptonshire Auctions has already entered a lock-out agreement with a national developer that aims to acquire the Brackmills site. The move prevents other parties entering negotiations to buy the market's freehold until talks are finalised.
However, farmers could still secure the market by acquiring the shareholders' capital. That would give the farmer consortium, led by local producer Richard Sawbridge, control of company assets including the freehold of the market, says Mr Cowling. The consortium says it offered to buy shares in the company last autumn after securing pledges of £2.4 million from farmers, but its offer was rejected.
Sept 30 02
DEFRA is as distant as everThe last case of foot-and-mouth was confirmed on a farm near Appleby in the Eden Valley on September 30, 2001.
This is the Lake District
But, despite the fact that a full 12-months have passed, farmers are still labouring under onerous movement restrictions, particularly the now notorious 20-day standstill rule, and many are asking "why?"
The rule means that unless animals arriving on a farm can be quarantined under difficult and sometimes impossible conditions, that farm is effectively shut down for 20 days. The rule is causing such problems during this, the important autumn sales period when most livestock farmers in and around South Lakeland do the lion's share of their buying and selling, that there has been talk in private of a revolt against the rule. In public, few will admit to being prepared to break it themselves, but many will say that most others would be.
Chairman of Cumbria NFU Will Cockbain said: "The 20-day standstill is causing unbearable pressure on Cumbria's livestock farmers.
For many Cumbrian farmers it has meant that they have been unable to trade in the normal fashion this autumn and in the long-run their businesses will suffer greatly. "We are pleased and relieved that we have not had a case of foot-and-mouth disease, but 12 months on we are still a very long way from being back to normal." There have also been widespread problems administering the animal restrictions left by the epidemic - with Government forms being branded as "gibberish" by Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Collins, who has taken several complaints about the paperwork from farming constituents.
Indeed, Cumbria Trading Standards confirmed that the infamous AML1 form had significant flaws from the start.
The autumn sales period happens, unsurprisingly, every autumn, so the ministry cannot claim to have been caught off-guard by its arrival, especially when ministers were repeatedly warned that they would have to find a way to make the system work. Their failure to make it work reflects badly on the Government and smacks of the indifference and ignorance of which it is so often accused.
The enormous numbers of people prepared to travel to the Liberty and Livelihood march in London is proof enough that people are generally dissatisfied with what they perceive to be Whitehall's negligence of rural areas and issues.
Many people in this area would agree with livestock auctioneer Kevin Kendal's assessment of the current farming situation as: "Another example of us telling the Government what needs to happen and them taking no notice at all." One thing DEFRA could and should do to start winning back the trust of the farming community is to look at the impact of the 20-day standstill, reassess the need for its stringency, and come up with a better solution.
Sept 29 02
RESTRICTIONS REMAIN AFTER FMD SCARE09:00 - 26 September 2002
Western Morning News
Restrictions are likely to remain on farms in the vicinity of a possible outbreak of foot and mouth until the weekend - causing problems for farmers hoping to move animals to market.
A second series of tests of a bull from Higher Redgate Farm, St Cleer, near Liskeard, Cornwall, were negative on Tuesday night. It is hoped that the scare will ultimately prove to be a false alarm and that farmers will be able to move their livestock to market next week.
Peter Hooper, auctioneer and partner with Kivells in Liskeard, said that today's livestock market had been called off and that he hoped to reconvene it next Thursday. He said that 100 cattle and 500 sheep had been booked into today's market, which was cancelled because of the five-mile movement restrictions.
He added that Anna Max, the farmer caught in the middle of the possible foot and mouth case, had always produced very high quality animals.
"Whatever she brings to market is always excellent," he said. "They are really well-bred cattle and all I can say is I will be very glad when this crisis is over and I can see her back at the market achieving good prices for good livestock. Let's just hope that this possible case turns out to be insignificant."
Meanwhile, Mrs Max thanked her neighbours, local vicar and everyone else who has supported her since her farm was placed under movement restrictions. The final results of tests carried out on her 15-month-old pedigree bull Shamus are due back from the Institute for Animal Health Laboratory at Pirbright in Surrey on Saturday.
Jan Kelly, divisional veterinary manager for Cornwall, was optimistic that the case will be negative. "It's looking good after the initial results, but we still have to get all of the tests through." She admitted that there are some farmers that have still not been contacted about the restrictions. "We were thinking of sending out people, but I think that would be over the top."
Sept 26 02
OUTRAGE OVER FMD SCARE09:00 - 25 September 2002
Farmers were last night furious after they say they were kept in the dark about a possible Westcountry foot and mouth outbreak. They said it had appeared the Government had learned nothing from last year's foot and mouth crisis, after which Ministers had pledged to improve communication.
Initial tests at Higher Redgate Farm, St Cleer, near Liskeard, have been negative, but the episode has unnerved farmers who still have bitter memories of last year's crisis. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was alerted on Monday evening when a bull owned by farmer Anna Max was showing signs of possible lesions which could have indicated foot and mouth. Defra imposed movement restrictions on an 8km (five-mile) area around the farm on Monday evening, but the decision was taken not to send officials to alert the 500 farmers in the immediate area.
Livestock farmer John Glencross is furious that Defra officials only warned him about the scare 12 hours after it was found, even though he lives just a mile-and-a-half away. "Talk about Lessons Learned. It's about time these officials learned some lessons themselves," said Mr Glencross, who farms at Wenmouth Manor, St Neot.
He received a phone call yesterday morning telling him to cease all livestock movements on his land, where he farms pigs, sheep, cattle and llamas. But he had already taken all the necessary precautions after hearing of the incident on the radio.
"After the last episode you would think they might have told us right away, even phoning in the middle of the night if they had to," he added.
Land near Liskeard belonging to James Moon, vice chairman of Cornwall National Farmers' Union, is subject to the movement restrictions. Mr Moon, who also heard about the incident on the radio, said: "It's very worrying that they haven't got a basic plan or guidance with which to work to."
Beef and sheep farmer Graham Higgins runs Higher Trenant Farm, a short distance from Higher Redgate. He said: "It would be nice to think they have a plan so that farmers could be informed as soon as possible, to lessen the risk of it spreading."
Mr Higgins sympathised with Anna Max. He said: "I feel very, very sorry for her. Nobody wants foot and mouth to come back again. We have been through all that in the last 18 months and we never want to see it again."
Speaking exclusively to the WMN, Mrs Max, who has farmed for more than 20 years, spoke of the distress caused by the incident. "I have got absolutely no adjectives to describe how upset I feel because, not only are my animals at risk, but also those of my neighbouring friends. It has been an absolute shell-shock. "I was dreading telling my neighbours, but they have been very, very supportive. It's an awful task to have to tell somebody that you might be the bearer of something so terrible."
Mrs Max contacted a vet on Saturday after Shamus, a 15-month-old, home-bred, pedigree Limousin bull from her breeding unit fell ill. He remained sick over the weekend, but did not display any possible symptoms of foot and mouth until Monday evening, when examined by two Government vets.
"The lesions are not entirely typical of foot and mouth, but the vets have no idea of what they could be if they are not," added Mrs Max.
A Form C notice was immediately ordered on Monday evening, placing movement restrictions on farms in a five-mile radius. But after a special telephone conference with Animal Health Minister Elliott Morley and top advisors in London that night, it was decided that farmers would not have to be warned until the next day.
Jan Kelly, divisional veterinary manager for Cornwall, said: "The telephone conferencing with Elliott Morley was to decide what the process should be in terms of communications, because that was one thing we were heavily criticised for, (last year) for not allowing people to know as soon as possible."
A press release on the news went out at 10pm on Monday. The job of officially notifying the 500 farmers, however, was left to a dozen Defra workers in the Truro office, who began the mammoth task of telephoning those affected at 7am yesterday.
Mrs Kelly added: "It did mean an awful lot of people in the area didn't know what was happening. A lot found out unfortunately from the press and radio this morning." She said that "the vast majority" of farmers had been informed by late morning yesterday, but admitted that some still did not know.
Mrs Kelly said that it would have been possible to begin telephoning affected farmers on Monday night, but it was decided against this course of action. "We could have got a team in and rung round last night, but it's a matter of how you pool your resources and in some sense, if it was going to be a hard day today, and it was going to prove positive, they would have needed their sleep and rest."
The fact that the bull had suspect lesions on its tongue and not elsewhere on its body, meant that it was likely not to be infected with foot and mouth, said Mrs Kelly. "It didn't seem likely to be positive so I must admit we didn't pull out all the stops last night," she added. "I certainly would have done a lot more if I thought the risk was greater."
Colin Breed, South East Cornwall MP and the Lib-Dems' agriculture spokesman, said: "If there's a suspect case then farmers in the 8km range need to be told as soon as possible. If there's one thing we have learnt from last year's foot and mouth crisis, it is that speed is of the essence."
Ian Johnson, spokesman for the South West NFU, said that the incident highlighted the ineffective contingency planning of the Government. "Communications were lamentable in the last outbreak and it doesn't look as if they have done anything worthwhile about it since."
Neil Parish, Westcountry Conservative MEP, and himself a farmer, said: "This is hopefully a false alarm, but what it shows is that the information is not coming out to farmers as it should. When is the Government going to put a proper contingency plan in place?" The final results of tests on samples taken from the bull are due to be known by the end of the week, so restrictions could be lifted by the weekend.
Sept 25 02
HOW WOULD DEFRA DEAL WITH ANOTHER OUTBREAK?09:00 - 25 September 2002 Inadequate communication was blamed by many as one of the main reasons last year's foot and mouth outbreak reached such massive proportions.
Western Morning News
Dr Iain Anderson, who led the Lessons To Be Learned Inquiry into the crisis, was just one expert to remark on the need for better dialogue in future.
"The quality of management information in times of crisis is critical," he said in his report. "Ministers and officials realised too late that managing the crisis was not only about securing sufficient numbers of vets...but also about ensuring that other resources were available as well."
On Monday, government vets found that a bull at Higher Redgate Farm, St Cleer, in South East Cornwall, had lesions on its tongue, and as a precaution sealed the farm and ordered that no animal movements take place within five miles. Yet despite the emphasis on providing better communication, hundreds of farmers were not officially informed about the suspected case until late the next morning.
Initial results, which were negative, were released by the Institute for Animal Health Laboratory at Pirbright, Surrey, yesterday.
But the uncertainty of local planners was reflected in the decision to hastily consult central Government on Monday night, bringing into perspective the provision of contingency plans.
If the case proves positive - which is highly unlikely - the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) would destroy the farm's 38 animals in the breeding unit and contiguously cull out the five neighbouring farms. Foot patrols were mounted yesterday by Defra workers to see how many animals were at neighbouring farms in the disastrous event of the case proving positive. If animals are destroyed, the haunting image of last year's burning funeral pyres would not be repeated, with Defra instead using rendering and incineration. To prevent the disease spreading, farmers would have to be quickly told what is expected of them. Defra would attempt firstly to contact all of the affected farms by telephone and would set up a helpline for advice.
Information would be posted on the department's website and the local National Farmers' Union and media would be approached to help spread the message.
Regardless of any hassle caused by subsequent restrictions, Defra has urged farmers to inform the authorities if they have the slightest suspicion that their animals are harbouring foot and mouth.
Sept 25 02
Re: Not winningDate: 25 September 2002
Frederick Forsyth letter to Telegraph
Sir - There may be various reasons for the demise of viable British agriculture, but collective suicide is not one of them (Comment, Sept. 24).
The "food at a price that other countries can effortlessly undercut" is deliberately cost-inflated by up to 30 per cent over EU competitors' by our own government. You can destroy any industry that way, but that was not why shipbuilding and mining died.
The production-cost rises far outstrip the subsidies, which in turn are far smaller than those paid to our EU competitors. That is why we are all marching up a 45 per cent slope and, amazingly, not winning.
From: Frederick Forsyth, Hertford
Sept 25 02
Re: Noble soulDate: 25 September 2002
Sir - While 407,000 were marching, one noble 16-year-old soul, known as Rob, worked from 2am to 8.30pm, milking a total of 520 cows twice, in two herds, and calved six cows single-handedly, so that the two herd owners could march in London.
From: Martin Brown, Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire
Sept 25 02
What will make them listen?(Filed: 24/09/2002)
Almost more extraordinary than the colossal scale of Sunday's Liberty and Livelihood March has been the Government's reaction to it. Here was a cause about which 407,791 Britons felt strongly enough to travel from every town and county in the land to march for many hours through the streets of the capital.
Yet so far the Government has behaved as if nothing happened, as if nothing really needs changing. All that ministers need do, the official line seems to be, is to explain patiently to the poor, dim-witted marchers that they were duped by the Countryside Alliance. The march was "hijacked" by the pro-hunting lobby, said Alun Michael, the minister for rural affairs. What country people failed to realise was: "Yes, we [the Government] are with you."
This line is so breathtakingly patronising, so patently untrue, that it beggars belief that Mr Michael had the gall to utter it. The protesters marched because they knew damn well that the Government was not with them. They knew that the march had been organised chiefly, though not solely, by the hunting lobby and that, by joining it, they would be registering a protest against the proposed ban. How dare Mr Michael pretend to mistake their message?
The scale of the march and the Government's reaction to it should be seen in their historical context. The civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King in the 1960s never attracted more than 250,000 demonstrators, drawn from a population of 200 million. Yet they rightly persuaded the administration in Washington that America's blacks had grievances that needed addressing urgently (and nobody accused Luther King of "hijacking" civil rights).
In Britain, protests against Margaret Thatcher's poll tax attracted only a fraction of the support of Sunday's march. Yet the Major government listened, and the tax was scrapped. Meanwhile, the IRA would be hard-pushed to muster 4,000 supporters - let alone 400,000. Yet Irish republicans need only whisper a supposed grievance, and the Government immediately does their bidding.
Imagine that more than 400,000 members of ethnic minorities had marched on London, complaining that a proposed new law would victimise them. It is unthinkable that ministers would simply ignore them - and nor should they. When people in such vast numbers demand a hearing, they must be given one.
Who can blame Sunday's marchers if they begin to think that their mistake has been to behave by the book - to register their protest exactly as people are meant to do in a liberal democracy? No marchers were arrested on Sunday, no litter was left behind. Who can blame those who think that, if 407,791 angry but polite voices fall on deaf ears, then nothing will influence this Government short of the threat of disorder?
Sept 24 02
Were you listening, Tony Blair?By Charles Moore, Editor of the Daily Telegraph (Filed: 23/09/2002)
Above all, it was the numbers. As soon as we reached our village railway station (yes, it is one of the few that still has one), we joined a crowd.
The special train arranged by the hunt and local farmers was wildly overbooked, and crawled from station to station, hunting horns blowing, until it came to rest in the London suburbs, becalmed by "engineering works". Exhausted by having our children perched on our knees or having to stand, we began to suspect a Blairite plot to prevent us from reaching the march at all.
When we finally made it, the march to the march began. We, on the allegedly plebbier, and smaller, "Livelihood" route, had to snake over London Bridge, circle round almost to the Tower and thence back towards Westminster. The crowds were so huge that it took us two hours to reach the start at Blackfriars Bridge. I rang friends on "Liberty", the other route, and they reported even larger queues.
From the official start, it was another hour and a half to the finish. Thanks to the Countryside Alliance's excellent choreography, more sophisticated than on the march four years ago, the rising numbers gave drama to the scene. Huge screens projected them, and by about 3pm people came running back, shouting "over 300,000", beating last time's record. As we filed past the Cenotaph, in the astonishing pool of respectful silence between the great roar of Whitehall behind and of Parliament Square in front, we could see the figures rising on the screen by about 1,000 a minute.
It felt something to be part of the largest public demonstration in British history.
The reaction of Alun Michael, the rural affairs minister, was to say that he still wasn't sure what the march was about. One can see why that seemed the safest (though also the silliest) thing to say. For, to an extent that surprised me, the march was about his leader.
Among all the sometimes imaginative and witty, sometimes crude and scrawled placards that people carried, the words "Tony Blair" occurred more often than anything apart from "hunting".
It is the Prime Minister's misfortune, of course, that his name is short and rhymes with "hare" and "care", and so lends itself to rural protest slogans. But even if his name had been Milosevic, I suspect it would have been plastered everywhere. More than 400,000 marchers do not buy his act.
I have never known a protest quite like this one, because it managed to be good-humoured and angry at the same time, much angrier than its predecessors. Lots of posters lumped Mr Blair with Robert Mugabe, the only other world leader currently trying to take on white farmers.
Unfair, of course, and yet, if I were Prime Minister, I would worry that I had established a reputation for persecuting the most viscerally British of my fellow countrymen.
The consent of the governed is a very important concept in a parliamentary democracy, more important, in some respects, than a simple parliamentary majority. That consent is now being withheld by huge numbers of the people who normally give it most readily. Surely Tony Blair never wanted it to be this way. New Labour is supposed not to threaten anyone. Mr Blair's selling point is One Nation Toryism with a faintly Leftish tinge.
Yet the nation he actually controls would show up on the map not as one, but as islands of urban pink in a vast expanse of rural sludge (not, automatically, blue). Like the Sheriff of Nottingham, he can drag outlaws into the city and throw them into prison, but, outside the gates, his writ does not run.
When they won in 1997, Labour's class warriors thought they could carry all before them on their pet issue of hunting - and take it out on farmers into the bargain. They have found it harder than they expected, and yesterday an army of 400,000 grass warriors confronted them.
Mr Blair does not like confrontation, at least not within these shores. His first reaction to his own unpopularity is to disbelieve it, but he is not stupid, and he will have noticed that yesterday was a cosmic version of the famous booing that he got from the Women's Institute before the last election.
His next reaction will be to try to placate it. The fact that we have now had five years of Labour government without the ban on hunting that most of the party's MPs want suggests that he might like a way out if one could be found.
When I saw Mr Blair shortly before he became Prime Minister for the first time, we chatted about many, apparently bigger, things and I said to him as I left that I thought his party's promise to ban hunting would cause no end of trouble. He seemed very surprised, but said, no doubt mindful of his audience, that, if people took it into their heads to pursue a fox, it really didn't bother him very much.
That is the reasonable view of a person not interested in the subject, but he seems unfortunately also to have thought that because the sport didn't matter, nor did banning it. There he made a mistake about the nature of culture and the nature of freedom.
One's idea of one's own culture is formed by many things that are small in themselves. In British culture, it might be cricket or Marmite or Radio 4 or driving on the left or, as Robin Cook once said, chicken tikka marsala, or any god of small things.
It will be a combination of smells and sights and songs and jokes. You won't spend much time talking about Britishness, but you will recognise its symptoms, and you will mind if they are attacked.
In that still large part of British culture that has any link with rural life, hunting is firmly ingrained, and so is farming. If you are part of that culture, you may not yourself know anything much about either, and you may dislike some of the practices of both, but your prejudice - your cultural DNA - is invincibly on their side.
And while you might very well listen to criticism of hunter or farmer from people who move in their world (rural life is full of such internal conflicts), you will set your face like flint against people who abuse them without knowing about them.
When the Prince of Wales told Mr Blair that the treatment of rural people was even worse than that meted out to black people, he was on to something in his comparison. Hunting and farming people, and their supporters, feel insulted by this Government in the way that black people feel insulted by racism - the horrible sense that you are hated simply for what you are.
That is the mistake about the nature of culture. The mistake about the nature of freedom is to think that an existing freedom must be made to justify itself. It is the other way round. The onus of proof should lie on the people who want to take an existing freedom away.
You may believe that hunting is cruel, but you must prove not only that (something that endless reports and consultations have failed to do): you must also prove the "therefore" that says that disapproval must lead to ban. In this case, it is unproved. Indeed, it is virtually unargued.
Most of the 400,000 marching yesterday were unpolitical people, but it is when unpolitical people feel affronted by politics that the politicians have to start worrying. If I were Mr Blair, trying to lead my nation into a war abroad, I would not be wanting another one at home.
Sept 23 02
Prince Charles tells Blair: 'Farmers are being treated worse than blacks or gaysBy Josie Clarke(Filed: 22/09/2002)
The Prince of Wales has written to Tony Blair to say that he agrees with farmers who believe that they are victimised more than "blacks or gays".
In an impassioned intervention on behalf of the countryside, Prince Charles told the Prime Minister that he agreed with a farmer in Cumbria who told him that "if we, as a group, were black or gay, we would not be victimised or picked upon". In the letter, which was written earlier this year, the future monarch said that if country folk were "any other minority" the government would make greater efforts to protect them. He went on to blame the Government for "destroying the countryside". Aides said Prince Charles wrote the letter after meeting Mr Blair. The Prime Minister is not thought to have responded directly. The disclosure of the intervention will hearten the 300,000 people expected to attend today's Liberty and Livelihood march on London organised by the Countryside Alliance. The protest is aimed at demonstrating opposition to a ban on foxhunting and to defend the rural way of life.
The Prince openly supports hunting, although neither he nor Camilla Parker Bowles, his companion, will attend today's protest. He has, however, given staff at his Highgrove estate and at his Duchy of Cornwall estate leave to attend the march. A spokeswoman for Prince Charles said: "The Prince may well have written to the Prime Minister about fox hunting." A Downing Street spokesman said: "We never comment on any private correspondence between the Prime Minister and members of the Royal Family. The Government continues to govern for the whole country, urban and rural alike."
Prince Charles has said that he will cease hunting if a ban becomes law, but a friend is reported to have said: "He thinks there is a lack of understanding from the Government about the real issues in the countryside."
Sept 22 02
RURAL ARMY ON THE MARCH09:00 - 21 September 2002 Parish Britain is on the move. The Westcountry's farmers, foresters, shopkeepers, innkeepers, grannies, granddads and kids - people from all walks of country life - have booked their places to attend the Liberty and Livelihood March tomorrow. Up to 400,000 demonstrators are expected to attend the march. It is estimated that up to 60,000 people will be travelling east from the counties of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, setting off in the grey hours of dawn by bus, train or car. Added to these, many are making a weekend of it, travelling to London today, while thousands of others are preparing to cover for those who go. The Countryside Alliance reports that 254 coaches have been organised to ferry protesters from the region. They will be joined by the folk who have booked seats on a specially chartered train. A spokesman for the pressure group said he'd worked out that a solid 44 miles of coaches would be converging on the capital. The Exmoor National Park area alone is sending 30 bus-loads - all of which are reported to be full.
Sept 21 02
Take to the streets tomorrow(Filed: 21/09/2002) Some critics of tomorrow's Liberty and Livelihood March like to say with a crafty look, "Ah, but it's really about hunting", as if this were being concealed from the public and hundreds of thousands of credulous marchers. Of course it is about hunting.
The chief inspiration for the march, as for the one in 1998, is that Labour MPs, with the slightly hesitant connivance of the Government, are trying to ban hunting in all its forms. Those who value the liberty to hunt and the livelihoods related to the sport have combined to resist what they see as an oppressive and ill-informed attack on them.
The results, judging by the previous march, and by the figures of those registering for this one, are astonishing. More people will be on this march than hunt in any one season in the entire country. It cannot be overemphasised (although the BBC will no doubt do everything to play it down) how extraordinary these numbers are. No political party, or political cause, could muster anything like so many foot-soldiers.
Why is this happening on such a scale? Because it is not only about hunting, or not about hunting in any narrow or technical sense. It is also about the issues raised by a hunting ban and by the attitudes behind such legislation which apply to farming and rural jobs and rural services and small businesses and shooting and fishing and rambling and land ownership and housing and tradition and freedom.
Yes, there is a variety of grievances. It is perfectly true, for instance, that the particular problems of farming, which relate to subsidy, are quite different from those of hunting, which is entirely unsubsidised. The march includes, some would say, a ragbag of causes. But it is held together by a remarkable solidarity. The sense of community is something whose lack in modern Britain everyone laments. It will be walking the streets of London proudly tomorrow.
It is quite an achievement of New Labour to produce such a large and determined protest from some of the most law-abiding and least political people in Britain. What this long struggle shows is that Labour is not firmly on the inclusive and modernising course that it proclaims under Tony Blair. The Prime Minister has done a great deal to reassure voters that Labour bears no malice towards Middle Britain, but Middle Britain has only to put on a pair of Wellington boots and the New Labour smile turns into the snarl of the class warrior.
Most Labour MPs still seem to inhabit a fantasy countryside in which rich and brutal farmers deprive "the people" of their land and ride down innocent ramblers with their horses. This is at a time when the salary and perks of each MP amount to £100,000 a year and the average farming income is £7,000. If Labour wants the One Nation party that Mr Blair seems genuinely to seek, it must stretch out to include the 80 per cent of the land mass of that nation which is not urban.
For more than a year now, this newspaper has been running a "Free Country" campaign. Again and again, we have noticed that the test of freedom is never in the general, always in the particular. Almost everyone says, "I believe in free speech", yet far too many try to restrict it on specific issues. Almost everyone agrees that people should be able to pursue their own pleasures, but then restricts those pleasures that he dislikes. Are we really a tolerant society, or is "tolerance" something that we extend only to our own preferences and prejudices? This is a test.
Tomorrow's crowds have plenty of reason for bitterness and exasperation, but we hope and expect that the march will be good-humoured. The people walking in their hundreds of thousands love their country in both senses of that word - the nation and the land. They are the sort of people who, in worse times, have been quite ready to die for it and its liberty. Join them.
Sept 21 02
FARMERS PICKET DEPOTS IN MILK PRICES PROTESTSAM MARSDEN 09:00 - 20 September 2002
Angry Westcountry farmers turned out in force last night to protest at milk prices in Britain, the lowest in Europe.
Demonstrators gathered outside the Dairy Crest depots in Totnes and Camelford between around 9pm and 1am and tried to stop lorries carrying milk from entering or leaving. Although initially the demonstration's instigators had talked about blockading all deliveries and clearing supermarket shelves of milk, in the end the protest was more about alerting people of the farmers' dire plight, with most receiving just 16p a litre for their milk.
Richard Haddock, who is the National Farmers' Union (NFU) livestock representative for the South West, helped organise the pickets. Speaking before the demonstration, he said he expected a "couple of hundred" farmers to attend. "We are allowing milk bulk tankers in and out," he said. "And we are asking lorry drivers not to cross the picket."
John Daw, chairman of the NFU in Devon, attended the Totnes picket. He said last night's demonstration was a "warning shot". "The dairies will have delayed the deliveries until 2 or 3am, after we have gone," he said.
"We just want to bring as much awareness of the farmers' situation as possible. We want the supermarkets and the dairies to see sense, to realise that we really have had enough." Dairy farmer Darren Freeth, who attended the Totnes demonstration with his father and brother, said it was "sink or swim" for British farmers. He warned that prolonged and unannounced blockades of milk depots could follow if the price of milk paid to producers was not raised to the European average of 20.6p in line with NFU demands.
"It is time Dairy Crest realised they've had enough of a free ride off us," he said. "And the supermarkets do not realise how much we put in. "Farming - the skills and the way of life - is passed on from generation to generation. I cannot see the countryside staying the same - and once it's gone, it's gone forever."
In Cornwall, dairy farmer Clive Richards joined the protest outside Dairy Crest's Davidstow creamery. "We are bringing to people's attention the fact that farmers cannot cope with the prices they are being paid," he said. "We are always expected to do more for less."
A Dairy Crest spokesman said: "We are not in a position to comment on something before it happens." The major UK supermarkets recently announced they would add 2p a litre to the price shoppers paid for milk. David Lattimore, managing director of direct milk supplies for Dairy Crest, this week announced the firm would pass this money directly onto farmers. But liquid milk accounts for only a quarter of the milk bought for the company, with the balance made up by cheese and other dairy products. Therefore, after splitting the 2p increase evenly between all its milk suppliers, Dairy Crest will only pay its farmers an extra 0.77p per litre.
However, Kevin Hawkins, communications director for Safeway, yesterday indicated the big supermarkets also intended to raise the price of mild cheddar cheese so all dairy farmers would benefit. "Obviously we cannot collude with other supermarkets to raise cheese prices, any more than we could collude to raise milk prices, but I am hopeful that this will happen shortly," he said.
Despite last night's pickets, the large supermarkets did not think shoppers would be confronted with empty shelves today. An Asda spokesman said: "We do not get our milk from Dairy Crest. We do not anticipate that there will be a disruption to supply, but we are keeping an eye on it." Sainsbury's spokesman Nikki Martin said: "As with any situation like this, we will monitor events closely and we have contingency plans in place."
A police spokesman said extra officers were specially brought in to the Totnes area to be on hand for the picket.
firstname.lastname@example.org WMN Opinion - Page 10
Sept 20 02
Angry farmers set their sights on the supermarketsBy Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent, and Peter Foster (Filed: 19/09/2002)
Thousands of dairy farmers will today try to blockade every dairy plant in Britain before going to London on Sunday to protest against the ruthlessness of supermarkets. Somehow they will find time away from their daily grind to stand up for a situation they regard as no longer sustainable.
For months, milk prices have been plummeting. Most farmers lose two pence on every pint they produce. Yet supermarket milk prices have remained unchanged.
Although the five major supermarket chains pledged last week to increase the price of their milk by a penny a pint, dairy farmers have yet to see any improvement. They say it is still not enough to prevent many of them being driven out of business.
For the first time, the pickets outside dairy plants today are being supported not only by the Farmers for Action group, but also by the National Farmers' Union and its Welsh and Scottish counterparts.
Richard Haddock, NFU livestock committee deputy chairman, said: "I have never known such unity over an issue. We have the lowest-paid milk producers in Europe and everybody says it is time that stopped."
The blockade of all milk depots will run from 9pm to 1am, with the aim of emptying all supermarket shelves of milk by midday tomorrow.
But dairy farmers are not alone in feeling disgruntled at the lack of Government support for their industry and the supermarkets' stranglehold over prices, highlighted by the NFU last week, which found that of a £37 supermarket basket of typical items - milk, bread, vegetables and meat - the farmer receives only £11.
The Morgan family - all 20 of them - will be marching to protest against the supermarket monopolies, the handling of the foot and mouth crisis and the failure to support and protect British produce against cheap imports.
They will be up early that morning to feed their herd of 500 charolais beef cattle before joining a coach party from the village of Appleton, Oxon, where they farm almost 3,500 acres. Bernard Russell, a farmer and potato trader from Romford, Essex, will be protesting at the disparity in potato prices, now the lowest in real terms in living memory.
"I wonder how many of those shopping for potatoes are aware of the huge difference in price between what the growers are currently getting and what the consumer pays at the supermarkets," he said.
Growers are paid £44.81 per tonne of standard white potatoes. By the time they have been boxed and put on supermarket shelves, shoppers are charged a price equivalent to £724.25 a tonne. "We know supermarkets have overheads," he said. "We also know they have great control over the farmer. But do they know that farmers also have overheads and are being driven out of business?"
Stephen Curtis, 56, a pig breeder in East Yorkshire with 5,500 sows will be joining the march with his five-year-old twin grandsons, Michael and Alexander, to protest at the pressure that supermarkets put on meat processors to seek the lowest prices from farmers. The farm gate pork price has collapsed from £1.40 a kilogram five years ago to around 80p a kilogram.
"The supermarkets screw the prices down, so the processors are forced to buy in from abroad, where animal welfare standards are lower," said Mr Curtis. "Supermarkets can still put the 'British Finest' sticker on it because it is processed here."
Some farmers, such as David Rose, an arable farmer from Car Colston, Notts, see a way forward. He has identified that it is the processors - the bakeries and dairies, for example - who take a large share of the retail price, along with supermarkets.
Mr Rose, who runs a farmshop home delivery service, thinks farmers should unite to share machinery and costs.
Sept 19 02
Re: Government indifferenceDate: 19 September 2002 Sir - The coming march is not only about hunting: so many livelihoods depend on the countryside. In England there are 14,000 dairy farmers: three quarters are making a trading loss for this financial year.
The milk price in September is a paltry 17p per litre, down from 21p last year, a drop of 19 per cent. How many people would turn out to work if their employers told them to take these wage cuts? On average, dairy farms produce 400,000 litres of milk. Most are run by a couple, regularly working up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, including all bank holidays and Sabbaths, since God, in a terrible oversight, forgot to make the cow a six-day-a-week model.
The British dairy farmer is the most tightly regulated in the world, and also suffers high transport costs. Many people believe that if imports are cheaper, British farmers should pay the consequence. I strongly disagree: the area of Doncaster where I live is very rural, with a myriad small hamlets, each with more than 1,000 years of tales to tell. They are systematically being destroyed. British agriculture also provides jobs to many in manufacturing. The continued slide in farm gate prices will eventually take its toll on urban jobs. The entire supply chain is on the brink of collapse.
Would this happen in France or Ireland? The Government here is indifferent.
From: Martin Drake, Askern, S Yorks
Sept 19 02
LETTER STOKES CONTROVERSY OVER CULL09:00 - 18 September 2002 A junior minister in Margaret Beckett's department publicly apologised for a bungled Westcountry cull that she claimed to know nothing about, it emerged yesterday.
Western Morning News
Speaking at the European Parliament's inquiry into the foot and mouth crisis last week, Mrs Beckett twice declined invitations to apologise for the Government's serious mishandling of an animal cull on a farm in Knowstone, Devon, last year.
A group of young limousin bullocks took flight onto neighbouring farms after Ministry of Agriculture marksmen took shots at them. Despite the national media attention the bungled cull received, Mrs Beckett claimed she was "not familiar with the case".
But the Western Morning News has learned that a minister in Mrs Beckett's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) sent a written apology for the cull to Devon's foot and mouth inquiry. The letter reads: "Defra very much regrets the conduct of this particular cull."
Although Mrs Beckett was not appointed at Defra until after the Knowstone cull, she had been in charge for six months when the letter was sent.
The bungled cull took place on May 13, 2001, and Mrs Beckett became Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs after Tony Blair's Labour government was re-elected in June, 2001. Lord Whitty, Food and Farming Minister, sent the letter apologising for the cull on December 20, 2001.
Devon County Council uncovered the evidence that Mrs Beckett appeared not to know what her own ministers were doing.
Council leader Christine Channon said: "It is astonishing that Mrs Beckett could be so unaware of an incident which was broadcast on national television, heavily criticised by the first public inquiry into the epidemic and regretted by one of her senior ministers in an official response on behalf of her Department."
The question from Devon County Council reads: "The inquiry also heard evidence from Knowstone Parish Council that the culling operation at the village was bungled, a herd of cows was shot on the run, and that is took several days to complete the slaughter.
"What steps has the department undertaken to ensure that all future culls are conducted efficiently and with sensitivity?" The department's reply was: "Defra very much regrets the conduct of this particular cull.
"Cattle handling facilities were limited, and 24 yearling limousins, which were not used to humans, managed to escape. Re-gathering them would have been likely to result in the animals running further away from the farm potentially spreading disease over a wide area.
"The decision was therefore made to cull them using marksmen. Regrettably, the marksman selected was only able to cull six, and only succeeded in dispersing the remaining animals further. An expert stalker eventually completed the task.
"New instructions have been issued nationally to ensure that sufficiently skilled marksmen are selected in future." Reacting to the revelation, Knowstone Parish Council chairman Bill Norman described Mrs Beckett as "arrogant and uncaring".
"My opinion of the woman is not very high. She appears to have one thing on her mind, and that is to crucify the countryside. "I am quite sure that she would have known about this or someone would have told her about it. "Whether she has got a lapse of memory or not, I don't know."
A Defra spokesman said: "Margaret Beckett would like to make clear that she was approached by a Western Morning News reporter in Brussels, but what was not reported was the rest of her comments to the reporter. "She said, 'I am aware that a great many people and communities suffered a great deal of distress during that time, and that is of course to be regretted all round. In my statement to Parliament, I make that clear'.
"She studied a lot of the documents about foot and mouth, but it is unfair to say she should have total recall of every incident that took place.
"At the time the foot and mouth report was presented, she made it very clear in Parliament that Defra accepts that mistakes were made. She is not uncaring or flippant about that."
Sept 18 02
IT'S YOUR MESS SO YOU CLEAR ITSAM MARSDEN 09:00 - 18 September 2002
A westcountry burial pit dug during the foot and mouth crisis is a blot on the landscape and it is the Government's responsibility to clear it up, a council said yesterday. The Ash Moor burial pit was built in the heart of the Devon countryside at the height of last year's crisis to take hundreds of thousands of animal carcasses. Despite costing over £6 million, it was never used and is still lying empty. Now the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), formerly MAFF, which constructed the pit and is maintaining it at a cost of £20,000 a day, wants to sell it off. Devon County Council yesterday considered a Defra proposal to sell the Ash Moor site, located near Petrockstowe, to the council. Defra estimates the land is worth £350,000, although the council disputes this.
Defra proposed that the council should also be responsible for restoring and managing the pit, with the help of a Government grant. But councillors and officers strongly rejected the suggestion, arguing Defra should resolve the problem itself because MAFF built the pit. Speaking yesterday at County Hall, Exeter, council deputy chief executive Edward Chorlton said he was "very wary" about taking on the massive restoration project. "Defra have to be responsible for putting what they have done right," he said. Mr Chorlton said he was worried that the cost of restoring the pit to its natural state could escalate far beyond the grant awarded by the Government. Defra estimates restoring Ash Moor will cost £1.2 million, but the council fears the final figure could in reality be much higher, leaving council tax payers to shoulder the burden. Chairing yesterday's meeting of Devon County Council's executive, Coun Brian Greenslade, said: "Anything we do has to represent value for money for the people of Devon. We cannot really take up what Defra are offering at the moment." Instead, the council wants Defra to restore the pit itself before selling on the site.
Defra has two proposals for returning the site to its natural state. The first would see it restored to its original condition. Devon members back the second proposal, whereby Ash Moor would be filled in and covered with a mixture of grassland, woodland and wetland.
In a report that went before councillors yesterday, council chief executive Philip Jenkinson said it would be difficult to restore the site to its original state because major changes were made when the pit was dug, including the removal of hedgrows. "Prior to the acquisition by Defra, the site was recognised as being of nature conservation significance," he added. "On this basis, nature conservation objectives are of paramount importance whichever restoration option is adopted. "It will also be difficult, in the short term, to restore the Culm grassland, as this depends partly on the mix of soil, and partly upon the grazing regime." But local campaigners accused the council of abdicating its duty to ensure Ash Moor was restored sensitively.
Ron Dawson, chairman of STAMP (Stop the Ash Moor Pit), said responsibility for the fiasco should be shared between Defra and the council. "It smacks of pettiness, and I found it very unhelpful," he said. "The mess was made by every party concerned - we were all involved in the hysteria of foot and mouth. I think it is awfully sad that they have deferred a decision until they have all the relevant information. "I really do think they should be looking at Defra's offer to sell them the pit. It is far better that local control is kept on the land because local knowledge is so much more important."
A Defra spokesman said: "We had hoped that the county council would be able to buy it and turn it into something the community could use. "There is not much we can do other than offer it for sale to the highest bidder."
Sept 18 02
A home, a job, a future. That was 18 months agoBy Robert Uhlig (Filed: 18/09/2002)
It was a smelly, unglamorous job, but someone had to do it. For Mick Eadle, a farmer in Oxfordshire, making pigswill provided a comfortable living until the Government banned his business last year and drove him into bankruptcy. Like thousands of other rural business people, Mr Eadle, 64, plans to join the Liberty and Livelihood March on Sunday. The marchers will be protesting against bureaucracy, short-termism and what they say is a failure by Government to recognise the needs of rural enterprise.
Among their number will be Toni Jones, 70, who said yesterday that red tape and Government indifference had recently forced her to close the Carnarvon Arms, a 22-room hotel at Dulverton, Somerset, that she had owned and managed for 42 years. She will be marching with her husband, daughters and grandchildren. "We were brought to our knees by foot and mouth. It forced us to sell the hotel to a property company and close the brasserie to villagers," said Mrs Jones. "We hated doing it, particularly as we have lost the local garage, the village shop, a nursery and a retirement home recently, all of which suffered dreadfully under increasing red tape."
Jim Webster, a beef farmer, will travel from Cumbria to join the march in protest at red tape that he said had knocked a fifth off his already meagre income and forced him to buy animals from dealers 150 miles away.
But of them all, Mr Eadle's experiences are the most dramatic. "Eighteen months ago, I had a fine home, a profitable farm, a good car and some money in the bank," he said yesterday. "Now I have nothing, my health is in tatters and the council has evicted me from my caravan. If I am lucky I'll get a place in an old people's home. Otherwise, I don't know." Within a few days of foot and mouth striking last year, pigswill was blamed for spreading the disease from illegally imported meats to a pig farm in Northumberland, and the Government banned its use.
Mr Eadle's business was immediately closed down. There was no redress, no compensation, not even a promise of reprieve for Mr Eadle and his colleagues, even though pigswill is still licensed in other parts of Europe.
"We had invested a lot of money in the most modern machinery and we ran a good operation. But because one man broke the law, the Government is punishing the country," Mr Eadle said. "It's not right and it shouldn't be allowed to happen. The Government pulled our living out from underneath our feet, but gave us no help with meeting debts that are the result of their actions."
Typical of the problems facing rural business, according to the Countryside Land and Business Association, is the frustration of many landowners and farmers who, prompted by Government exhortations to diversify, apply to convert agricultural buildings to commercial use but find their intentions hampered by planning restrictions.
But the biggest problem faced by rural businesses is the poor telecommunications infrastructure. After finding countless examples of businesses hampered by the slow rollout of rural broadband, the CLA has launched a campaign to persuade the Government and BT to speed up access to internet services. Dr Charles Trotman, rural economy adviser at the CLA, said: "Rural businesses already struggle with appalling public transport, restrictive planning systems and infrequent delivery services. "Without faster internet access, many businesses will not be able to compete in a market that depends on speed of communication and the ability to do business online."
Sept 18 02
'Economic disaster' warning over GM cropsBy Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent (Filed: 18/09/2002)
Genetically modified crops have been an "economic disaster" in America, costing £8 billion in lost profits and higher subsidies since 1999, according to a report published yesterday.
The study by the Soil Association raises questions over the future of GM crops in Britain, currently undergoing their final round of farm-scale trials before the Government consults on their introduction.
According to the report, called Seeds of Doubt, almost every benefit claimed for GM crops did not stand up to examination. Farmers reported lower yields, continued dependency on chemical sprays and widespread GM contamination of non-GM and organic crops, which in turn damaged exports. Based on interviews with academics, advisers, farmers and industry analysts in North America, it said that GM crops had delivered few, if any, of the economic benefits promised to farmers. Growing GM herbicide-resistant soya and insect-resistant maize was found to be less profitable than growing natural varieties because of the higher costs of GM seed and the lower market prices for GM crops. About £400 million a year has been wasted after almost the entire North American exports of maize and rape to the European Union were lost following the introduction of GM varieties, the report said.
About £6.5 billion had been handed out in farm subsidies over the past three years in America for maize and soya because of low prices caused by loss of trade due to GM crops, the report estimated. Contamination had also cost an estimated £1 billion in lost foreign trade, while one particular product recall left a bill of about £600 million.
Three quarters of the world's GM crops are grown in America and Canada. But following problems with GM soya and maize, more than 200 groups representing farmers and the organic sector in the two countries are calling for a moratorium on the introduction of GM wheat, the next proposed crop.
Peter Melchett, policy director for the Soil Association, said the report should act as a warning to the Government, which will make a decision next year whether to allow GM crops to be grown commercially in Britain.
"With agriculture still suffering a deep economic crisis, the temptation to seize a new technology is great," he said. "Growing GM crops in the UK will undermine the competitiveness of British agriculture."
An EU report leaked earlier this year found that the costs of keeping GM and non-GM crops separate would often be too high to make commercial planting of GM crops economically feasible. On Monday, the National Centre for Food and Agricultural Policy, an American group funded by the biotechnology industry and the American government, painted a different picture of GM crops in America, saying that in 2001, GM crops of soya-bean, maize, cotton, papaya, squash, and oilseed rape produced an extra 1.8 million tons of food and fibre on the same acreage.
The report said GM crops had improved farm income by £973 million and reduced pesticide use by 21,000 tons. A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "If GM crops are approved it can be assumed that farmers will not grow them unless they see some benefit to themselves, and unless there is a market for what they are producing. "The Government recognises that consideration needs to be given to the terms on which GM crops might co-exist with conventional and organic production; this is another issue that we expect to be considered as part of the GM debate."
Sept 18 02
It's us who are being milked - dairy farmersBy The Journal
Dairy farmers from across the region demonstrated through Northallerton town centre to highlight the 9p a pint they receive for their milk - just a quarter of the average retail price.
During the demonstration, organised by the NFU, milk maids in fancy dress handed out 302 bottles of milk to shoppers in the town to signify the number of jobs lost from the farming industry in Yorkshire and the North-East every month. Entertainment was provided by a jazz band, a pantomime cow and a wooden cow which the public were invited to "milk".
Durham farmer Brian Hodgson, NFU North Riding & Durham County chairman, said: "We lost 3,624 jobs from the farming industry in Yorkshire and the North-East last year which is totally unacceptable. If the public wants quality food they can trust, farmers in this country must be given a fair share of the retail price so they can make a profit.
"Dairy farmers are losing a fortune as they are receiving only 9p for every pint of milk they sell, whereas consumers are paying an average of 36p for a pint of milk - that's a 300pc mark-up between the farmgate price and the retail price. Someone, somewhere is making a considerable profit on milk, so why should farmers be making a loss? "If the current milk price farmers are receiving continues, it will force more producers out of the industry."
Sept 17 02
Thousands rally to the marchSheila Coleman Farming Editor Sheila.Coleman@Wme.Co.Uk, The Western Mail
THE Welsh farming community has thrown its weight behind next weekend's countryside march in London. At least 15,000 people from Wales are expected to take part in the Countryside Alliance organised Liberty and Livelihood march on Sunday. Mark Hinge, the alliance's political director for Wales, said, "This show of strength from Wales sends out a clear and an advance message that the countryside must be listened and treated with tolerance and respect." He continued, "I have been amazed at the huge take-up on coaches, this together with requests on how the young, old, disabled and less abled can make their own contribution means that clearly we will be looking at a huge turnout from Wales." Organisers say they are delighted with the response - particularly over the past week - from the rural community.
"It demonstrates that more and more people, both from town and country, are ready to march to express their strong desire to ensure the survival of rural Britain. This march will be the largest peacetime demonstration in British history and everyone is eager to play a part on a historic day," said march director James Stanford. While the catalyst for the march has been the threat to ban hunting with dogs, for many of the marchers it is the wider issues affecting rural life which are inspiring them to travel to London.
Even those who cannot be at the march in person - such as staff at the World Sheepdog Championships at Bala, which conclude on Sunday - can sign a "Marching in Spirit" register to show their support. National Farmers Union Cymru spokesman Keith Jones said NFU leaders would use the march to fully promote the "many problems facing farmers".
"A large number of NFU Cymru members have intimated that they intend to be present and they have been busy chartering buses and getting seats on them from every corner of Wales.
Sept 17 02
REGION 'MUST BE MORE PRODUCTIVE'09:00 - 17 September 2002 The South West must become more productive and competitive, according to Sir Michael Lickiss, chairman of the South West Regional Development Agency. At yesterday's presentation of the agency's annual report, he also said the area had skill shortages which hampered efforts to attract investment.
The report says that last year the agency spent almost £110 million. It gives grants for regeneration work and lobbies government on behalf of regional businesses and communities. Sir Michael said many challenges lay ahead, but there were bright signs for the future, including setting up a manufacturing centre of excellence, more innovation centres and building more "cutting-edge" office and industrial space.
"The South West must become more productive and competitive," he said. "Innovation and quality do not yet drive all parts of the economy or all businesses. "Urban and rural areas should work more closely together. Skills shortages affect our ability to attract new investment, while some parts of the South West still suffer considerable disadvantages."
RDA chief executive Geoffrey Wilkinson said it had played an important part in the recovery from foot and mouth and spent £14 million on a business recovery fund. "What we fund is only a small part of what we can achieve," he said. "It is equally important that we can lobby effectively with government and partners here in the South West and, by exercising strategic leadership, sow the seeds of lasting success and growing productivity."
Sept 17 02
MILK PROTEST SPLITS FARM LEADERSHIPSAM MARSDEN
Western Morning News
09:00 - 17 September 2002 Westcountry farming leaders are split over a protest planned for this week that aims to drain the region's supermarkets of milk. Angry dairy farmers intend to blockade depots across Britain on Thursday night to draw attention to the low prices they receive for their product. Devon farmer Richard Haddock, who led the fuel protests in 2000, is spearheading the milk protest.
He said the protesters would start by blockading depots in Scotland, and would move down to the South West. "We do not want to interfere with the public, but this was the only way of getting a clear message through," he said. "No individual is leading it, and there is no spokesman. It is just that farmers have had enough."
The organisers of the milk blockade, a group of six farmers and an anonymous high-ranking National Farmers' Union official, are known as the "Secret Seven". They say many of Britain's shops will run out of milk by lunchtime on Friday.
Mr Haddock, who farms 800 acres in Kingswear, is not himself a dairy farmer. But he said he supported the NFU in its negotiations for a better milk price. "The NFU has come up with the figure of 20.6p per litre, which is the European average," he said. "British dairy farmers are the lowest-paid in the EU - they receive only between 13.5 and 16p a litre for their milk. Italian farmers get 29p a litre."
But Steve Bucknell, chair of the Cornish branch of the NFU and a beef farmer near Newquay, said the blockades were not the best way for dairy farmers to improve their lot. "The NFU is talking constructively with these groups, and therefore I cannot condone farmers who take direct action," he said.
John Daw, chairman of the NFU in Devon, said he did not have a better idea as to how farmers could make their point.
"We have tried to reason with people. At the end of the day, we are trying to get some public awareness of this stupid position we are in," he said. "It just shows our frustration at the retailers' total power."
Kevin Hawkins, communications director for Safeway and a former member of the MAFF taskforce on milk, said that if the blockades lasted a day, he expected only "a bit of temporary disruption". "Obviously, one would not be complacent, and one would take precautionary steps. But there are much more important underlying issues we have to sort out.
"The supermarkets recently put their prices up by the equivalent of 2p a litre. But farmers still obviously think that is not enough.
"It would also appear that they expected the dairies to pass the price increase on to them more quickly. I understand it is taking the dairies some time to work out how much the increase should be for cheese and so on.
"We want as much of the 2p as possible to go through to the farmers. "Let's sit round a table with the dairies, the farmers, the co-operatives and the big retailers, and see if we can work out a better future for this industry."
Sept 17 02
COUNCIL TO CONSIDER FUTURE OF BURIAL PIT09:00 - 17 September 2002
Western Morning News
The future of the Ash Moor burial pit, which was created in Devon to take the carcasses of millions of slaughtered animals from the foot and mouth crisis but was never used, will be considered by Devon County Council today.
The council's executive meets to examine options put forward by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for the future of the pit, which even in its unused state costs £20,000 a week to run. The three options put forward by Defra are that the department should restore the site to its original condition and sell it to the council or another body, the department should carry out limited restoration and sell the site to the council, or the department should transfer the site to the council together with a suitable sum of money for restoration and future management.
One of the recommendations being put to the county council executive is that the council should tell Defra that it would not want the responsibility for the site. The executive is being recommended to tell Defra that it would support restoration for nature conservation rather than to return the site to its original condition.
Sept 17 02
NEW PARTY BACKS ENGLISH PARLIAMENTJASON GROVES
Western Morning News
09:00 - 17 September 2002 The devolution debate is set to take a fresh twist today with the launch of a new political party dedicated to the establishment of an English parliament.
The English Democrats Party, which will be launched in London today, aims to take advantage of the growing interest in the idea of "Englishness" and the increased use of the flag of St George to build support for a dedicated parliament along the lines of the Scottish Parliament. ............ Mr Tilbrook said the party was receiving support from all parts of the political spectrum. He added: "The party has been formed by people of widely varying backgrounds from all parts of England. "They belong to a great and ever-growing body of people who are fed up and frustrated by the failure of political parties to respond to their concerns. These are not extremists but ordinary people with legitimate worries about what is happening to their society and their country. "There is widespread resentment that England is not recognised as being a country; its people feel sidelined and disenfranchised.
"We are faced with a situation where we either have an English Parliament or we have England broken up into regions and it is clear that none of the existing parties are going to do anything about it."
Mr Tilbrook said the party was also keen to generate greater local accountability and would give areas like Cornwall "as much autonomy as there is a demand for." The creation of the English Democrats is the latest side effect of the Government's devolution agenda, which has seen a marked increase in the use of St George's flag. .....
Sept 17 02
Farmers unite in milk protestby Valerie Elliott
SUPPLIES of milk could be disrupted next weekend after a mass protest by farmers outside the 150 milk distribution depots. The action is planned for Thursday night and, for the first time, farmers throughout the country have united to demand higher prices for milk. They are asking for at least 10.5p a pint instead of the 7p to 9p they are paid, the lowest in Europe. Farmers receive more than 14p a pint in Italy, over 12p in Germany, and 11p in France. Jim Walker, president of the Scottish National Farmers' Union, was the first to name September 19 as a day of protest. The move is now being supported unofficially by the National Farmers' Union, the Farmers' Union of Wales and the militant organisation, Farmers For Action.
They are also demanding higher prices for milk that is used in cheese and other dairy products.
Sept 16 02
'NOTHING DONE' ABOUT ANIMAL TRANSPORT RULESAM MARSDEN
Western Morning News
09:00 - 16 September 2002 Westcountry farmers could have to wait until March next year before restrictions on the transportation of livestock are lifted.
The Western Morning News has learned that the Government plans to wait until 2003 before starting its study of whether the unpopular 20-day standstill rule limiting animal movements can be lifted.
Robert Sturdy, Conservative MEP for the Eastern Region and instigator of the European inquiry into foot and mouth disease, visited Exeter at the weekend to meet Devon farmers.
He had just returned to Britain from Brussels, where he quizzed Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, about when the Government intended to lift the 20-day rule.
"Margaret Beckett consistently quoted the Anderson Report throughout her speech in Brussels," he said. "Anderson was quite critical of the 20-day rule, and said the Government must do a full review of its financial effects and what problems it has caused for the industry. "To my utter surprise, she said she had done nothing about it. She said it was only two-and-a-half months since the Anderson report came out, and that they were putting the tender out for people to do an impact assessment on the 20-day rule. "They are looking at doing the study in the New Year. "I said I thought this was absolutely ridiculous. This means the rule will not be lifted until February or March at the earliest." After last year's foot and mouth crisis, the Government brought in a ban on any animal being moved from a farm for 20 days after new sheep and cattle were introduced. From September 6, the rules were loosened, but farmers are still pressing for them to be lifted altogether - or at least for the holding period to be cut to six days.
John Daw, chairman of the National Farmers' Union in Devon, said the Government's delay did not surprise him.
"With the 20-day rule, livestock markets are going to disappear," he said. "But quite honestly, if the 20-day rule continues for the next two months, it's not going to make a big difference to farmers. "The real exchange of animals from the uplands to the lowlands takes place between now and November 1. "Everything is over by then, and then it doesn't matter for the next three months. "But of course, as you get to the beginning of March, the markets will start running again."
Mr Sturdy also asked Mrs Beckett about what the Government intended to do about meat imports from countries where foot and mouth disease was rife. "I made it plain that this is not a trade issue, but it seems to me rather ridiculous to import meat from places like Central America where foot and mouth is endemic, when there are plenty of disease-free sources like Australia and New Zealand," he said. "Her answer was that it was a very difficult issue, and that they would consider it. In other words, they will do nothing."
Sept 16 02
French Welcome Changes in BSE Rules
Confidiration Paysanne says selective slaughter policy is sufficient to protect public health.
French farmers have welcomed the Government moves to change the slaughter regulations in the event of a case of BSE.
The French agriculture minister this week Hervi Gaymard said the controls will be changed to a selective slaughter of animals - cohorts and the descendants of animals infected with BSE born one year either side of the infected animal - rather than a whole herd slaughter policy.
The farmers' union Confidiration Paysanne, which has been campaigning for a change in the rules for a long time said the whole herd slaughter policy did not do anything more to guarantee the safety of the meat, it was destructive for the farmers and a waste of public money.
The selective slaughter, the union said, is sufficient for the protection of the public's health, particularly since the use of meat and bone meal feed has been banned and with the re4gulations over the removal of specified risk material and with the new rapid detection tests on carcases.
The union, however, has continued to call for research to be financed to find the causes of BSE.
Sept 16 02
Hunting protest masks deeper divisionsBy Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent (Filed: 16/09/2002)
The countryside crisis is coming to town. Two years in the planning and heralded by an army of slogans leaping from hedgerows, fields and the rear windows of countless four-wheel drives, the Liberty and Livelihood March will converge on Whitehall next Sunday.
But while the protest against a proposed ban on hunting with hounds is the central cause that has pulled in supporters from as far afield as America and Thailand, for many of the marchers hunting is little more than a side issue.
With more than 300,000 expected, the Countryside Alliance concedes that most participants, although sympathetic to the pro-hunters, will be protesting about more fundamental threats to the countryside: the crisis in agriculture, the erosion of rural public services, the squeeze on local economies.
Their common target is a Government they believe to be interested only in urban voters and issues, one which they believe is using the hunting issue to sideline more pressing countryside concerns.
Among them will be thousands of farmers, teachers, business people, auctioneers, shopkeepers, doctors, hoteliers, restaurateurs, school leavers and young families, most with little more than a passing interest in hunting, but all affected by a steadily worsening economic and social crisis from which they believe the Government has abdicated responsibility.
The Countryside Agency has made apparent the growing shortage of affordable rural housing, the inadequate public transport in remote areas, the disappearing rural post offices, shops, doctors' surgeries and schools, and the steady decline in farming incomes, but ministers appear unwilling to tackle many of the problems.
For many marchers, the foot and mouth crisis, which cancelled the march planned for last year, was the turning point. They believe that the Government's failure to tackle the disease at its onset showed its ignorance of farming practices and rural ways.
Citing the closure of the countryside as a symptom of the Government's misunderstanding of the epidemic's £5 billion impact on rural tourism, they suspect that Tony Blair's belated intervention was triggered more by concerns that the crisis would overshadow Labour's hopes for the general election than by an understanding of the effects of the epidemic on farming and rural businesses.
Almost a year since the last of 2,030 outbreaks of foot and mouth was recorded, little appears to have been done to address the most likely cause of the epidemic. Only two sniffer dogs and a poster campaign have been employed to stem the illegal meat imports still flooding into the country.
Livestock farmers are still under restrictions, forced to confine sheep, cattle and pigs on their land for three weeks after any animal movement, a Government restraint that, although a sensible bio-security measure, makes it harder for farmers to rebuild their livelihoods.
Others, such as the grassroots foot and mouth activist Janet Bayley from Cirencester in Gloucestershire, are concerned that the mistakes of the crisis have still not been learnt despite two official inquiries, a policy commission on farming and food, and countless independent investigations.
Mrs Bayley will be leading a contingent from the National Foot and Mouth Group, an alliance of farmers, vets, scientists and others who believe that the contiguous cull that led to the slaughter of more than 10 million animals was unethical, illegal and based on unsound science.
Although heartened by the European Union's announcement last week that it will impose vaccination on any state that does not immediately come to grips with a foot and mouth outbreak, they are concerned at the Government's desire to force the Animal Health Bill through the next session of Parliament.
Mrs Bayley said her contingent would be marching to voice its concern at the upcoming legislation and to make plain its disgust that no one in Government has taken responsibility for foot and mouth, which cost Britain £8 billion, brought misery to tens of thousands of farmers and left deep economic, social and emotional scars across the countryside.
"We are people drawn from all walks of life, united by concern that many of the recommendations of the official inquiries will not be acted upon. Already there are signs that ministers and officials are cherry-picking the recommendations that best support their aims," she said.
"We are also concerned that many of the statistics cited by the inquiries were incorrect. We are calling for independent critical analysis of the epidemiological data.
"Over the past 18 months' involvement with foot and mouth, we have realised the desperate state of agriculture, how much food is imported and how farming has given us the look of the countryside and which is at the heart of the rural economy and communities."
Sept 16 02
Blair goes to the country to woo angry rural votersBy Valerie Elliott and Melissa Kite
TONY BLAIR is to embark on a countryside tour this autumn in an effort to allay fears that a ban on foxhunting would wreck communities and destroy jobs. On the tour, the Prime Minister will outline measures to boost jobs, services and housing. Mr Blair will say that these are the real issues, not hunting. In a further attempt to improve relations Mr Blair has agreed that Ewen Cameron, the Governments rural advocate, should join next Sundays countryside march to listen to the wider grievances of country dwellers. With a week to go before some 300,000 people take to the streets on the countryside march to save hunting, Mr Blair is determined to counter the impression put forward by the Countryside Alliance that the issue has become the focus for all rural concerns.
The Prime Minister is also planning to vote for a compromise Bill being worked on by Alun Michael, the Rural Affairs Minister, which would allow some hunting with dogs to continue in certain areas under a licensing scheme. Although the issue remains a free vote for MPs, Mr Blair believes that he must show leadership and support the government solution, which would end hare-coursing and deer hunting, but allow some licensed foxhunting.
As The Times reported last week, Labour MPs are preparing to hijack the Bill and strike out the compromise clause. Mr Blair is expected, however, to make clear his personal preference for compromise when the time comes for MPs to vote. A statement on the precise shape of the new Bill is expected from Mr Michael within weeks and a commitment to deal with hunting will be included in the Queens Speech in November.
Mr Blair believes that rural people have the same concerns as those in the towns and that the key issues are jobs, income, transport, affordable housing, good hospitals and schools. But there are fears in government that the countryside is becoming increasingly politicised and the march this weekend could become a focal point for general discontent. Unlike the last march, when Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, joined the protesters, there will be no minister present this year.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative leader, has said that he will attend the march, as will Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman.
Mr Cameron, chairman of the Countryside Agency and a Somerset landowner, confirmed last night that he would be the "eyes and ears" for the Government next weekend. He does not hunt but believes, on libertarian grounds, that it should continue. He is concerned, however, that hunting is dominating the countryside debate when he believes there are more urgent issues. He welcomed plans by Mr Blair to visit the countryside: "It would be good if he could get out. In some places, though, he would be wise to let things cool down. After the march, people will have their tails up and it could become quite aggressive." The Countryside Alliance leadership also appears keen not to antagonise people watching the march. Marchers have been told that they should not carry posters or banners overhead and that they should not carry or sound hunt horns or use whistles
Sept 16 02
Rural problems are too diverse for one marchThe difficulty of finding purely rural concerns is likely to fracture the Countryside Alliance
Andreas Whittam Smith
When hundreds of thousands of country people march through central London next Sunday, ask them what are they protesting about. For the very diversity of their answers will reveal the substantial difficulties faced by the organisers, the Countryside Alliance.
Some marchers will be there to persuade Parliament to reject the abolition of hunting with hounds. Others will be more concerned with the low prices paid by supermarkets to farmers. Further voices will be raised to deplore the disappearance from the countryside of amenities such as schools, post offices, public transport and church services. And resentment will be expressed at the high cost of housing, with values driven up by urban purchasers of second homes, by commuters and by people retiring from town to countryside.
Contrast this with the demonstration staged a couple of weeks ago by fire brigade members in the streets round Westminster. They spoke with one voice: we deserve a substantial pay rise given the nature of our work. There was no hostility to passers-by. The traffic around Parliament Square was held up for a bit, and later the local pubs did a good trade. Point made.
In other words, the least of the Countryside Alliance's problems is the quite difficult feat of organising the transportation of a very large number of people from all over England to descend on the two starting points by 10 o'clock on a Sunday morning. Fleets of coaches and specially chartered trains will have had to start their journeys long before the sun comes up.
That it will be done, I have no doubt. Not many Londoners will watch; indeed the natives may well be outnumbered by tourists. But so long as television cameras are able to film streets filled to the brim with countryside protesters, that will not matter. Nor will it be a problem that country folk dislike the capital city and those who live in it while city dwellers view the countryside with indulgence.
Unfortunately, unlike the firemen, the Countryside Alliance has two official themes, not one. They are "liberty" and "livelihood". The words sound well together, even if the concepts are completely different. "Liberty" clearly means freedom to hunt, and under "livelihood" come five themes: the protection of communities, culture, values, customs and children's futures. The organisers believe that limiting the objective of Sunday's demonstration to saving hunting alone would not register with the country at large. They are right about that. The number of people to whom hunting is an important part of their lives is tiny.
Alas the five themes are not exclusively rural. In fact, Britain's ethnic groups would sign up to each one of them. The protection of communities, for instance, is as much an issue in, say, Hackney or Tower Hamlets, in London, Leicester or Bradford as it is on the Cumbrian fells or in the furthest reaches of empty, deeply rural Suffolk. Exactly the same consideration applies to three of the other five themes - culture, values and customs. They are as dear to ethnic communities as to rural. And as for children's futures, the countryside has no special claim.
This difficulty in finding purely rural concerns - who doesn't worry about an absence of affordable housing, for instance, or poor public transport? - is likely to fracture the Countryside Alliance in due course. It is, after all, an "alliance", and alliances are made to be pulled apart. Thus rural protest already has a militant tendency. For the most part, it is solely concerned with the protection of hunting.
Hunt supporters have seen the success of the direct action tactics used by hunt saboteurs and animal-rights fanatics. Why shouldn't they use the same methods, they wonder? They want to "gridlock" London on a weekday - which only shows how little they know about the capital city, for it is usually gridlocked anyway.
At the same time, some of the country's biggest landowners, the Duke of Devonshire among them, are beginning to make it plain that they would continue to allow hunting even if it were illegal. They are prepared to go to jail to defend the right to do what they choose with their own land. I don't think journalists can criticise this attitude, for we too are prepared to go to jail rather than obey the law - in our case to protect the identity of people who disclose information to newspapers on a confidential basis.
Finally some militant dairy farmers are threatening to picket 150 milk depots around the country in protest at the low prices they are receiving. I have sympathy with them. They finally make it through the devastation caused by foot-and-mouth disease. Many of them use their compensation to buy better herds and upgrade their farm equipment. They hope for a better milk price and then are sorely disappointed. Blocking the supply of milk signals their desperation.
There won't be another big London march organised by the Countryside Alliance, for next Sunday's demonstration will almost certainly prove to have been ineffective because it lacks a clear focus. Instead different rural interests will mount their own campaigns. From the point of view of the countryside, that will prove the better way to proceed. The only protest march I would join would have as its aim the dismantlement of the Common Agricultural Policy, but that is another issue.
Sept 16 02
GOVERNMENT'S FULL INEPTITUDE REVEALED09:00 - 13 September 2002
Western Morning News
On a day when Margaret Beckett faced the EU's foot and mouth inquiry, Conservative MEP Neil Parish reflects on where the Government went so wrong It HAS always been the case that the British people have looked for strong leadership from its politicians.
At times of crisis and when things looked their bleakest, we could always be sure that the people in charge, be it Churchill or Thatcher, could be relied upon to know what the answer was, that they knew the best thing to do. This belief in the Government and our public bodies was shattered for many in the rural communities by the events of last year.
This was summed up for me by one farmer during a visit of the European Inquiry to the UK recently when he said: "We dreaded the knock on the door by the MAFF official more than we did the disease itself." My many meetings with farmers, business people and just those who had to stand idly by and watch their friends and family suffer brought home to me the depth of the frustration and betrayal that many people felt at the hands of this Government.
Human rights were violated, hopes and dreams crushed, and generations of work crushed by the control freakery and overwhelming arrogance that Mr Blair and his party showed. Surely this fury and bitterness could not have gone unnoticed by Downing Street. After all, politicians are supposed to sense and indeed capture the mood of the nation.
No one has achieved this better than Teflon Tony, the man who could seemingly do no wrong. The events of the last 24 hours have shown to me that not only have they learnt nothing, they just simply do not care. Yesterday, I learnt of the proposals that the European Commission intends to put forward to deal with a future outbreak. I would like to put on record my admiration for the commitment and dedication this paper has put into discovering the truth over foot and mouth.
The exclusive story in yesterday's Western Morning News showed in stark reality how little confidence the EU has in our Government's ability to deal with another outbreak. As a confirmed Eurosceptic I am absolutely opposed to the terrible intrusion and federalist agenda that emanates from the bureaucrats in Brussels.
But the British Government's handling of the foot and mouth crisis has simply been exposed as a fiasco by the EU Commission after details of its own plans for handling a crisis were made clear.
EU Health Commissioner David Byrne yesterday confirmed at the European Inquiry hearing that the Western Morning News' revelations that Brussels will take charge of future foot and mouth epidemics under a new European directive that strips Britain of the power to decide whether to vaccinate livestock were true.
In contrast to the Government's determination to continue with a mass cull, the EU is stocking up with a million doses of vaccine for immediate use.
And because this Government singularly failed to meet its own targets for the 24 and 48-hour cull, the EU now wants to force them to vaccinate if they fail to meet the targets after two days. In actual fact the EU plan could not be more opposite to the UK one if you deliberately set out to do so. The UK's revised contingency plan has not only been shown to be completely inadequate, the EU has now given up pretending that it even comes close.
So what was the Rt Hon Mrs Beckett's response to our questions over the new plan? Not only had she not seen them, she said, but she hadn't even read the newspaper reports. Has it really come to the situation where our Government Ministers are viewed as so inept and so ineffective that a regional morning newspaper knows more about what is going on with European policy than the Secretary of State?
Or could it be that Mrs Beckett was so embarrassed by these revelations that she simply did not have an answer?
posted Sept 15 02
Brussels to control the foot and mouth fightBrussels would take charge of future foot and mouth epidemics under a new European directive that strips Britain of the power to decide whether to vaccinate livestock.
Shocked by the emerging allegations of incompetence by British officials, the European Commission has concluded that no single member state can be trusted to tackle epidemic diseases threatening the whole union. The EC would have power to order vaccination........
Portfolio shuffle at the Environment DepartmentThe Secretary of State for the Environment has announced a shuffle of portfolios between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (DEFRA) ministers, with each minister receiving a variety of responsibilities.
It is usual for ministers' portfolios to be moved around as priorities change, to ensure that no one minister is overburdened whilst others are under-worked, a DEFRA spokesman told edie. On this occasion, the reshuffle of duties has been carried out with sustainable development in mind, and has been done deliberately to ensure that sectors are divided up between ministers, building in overlaps said the spokesman. Sustainable development cannot be compartmentalised," he said.
"Now is the time to look afresh at DEFRA's ministerial portfolios and how their responsibilities interrelate," said Beckett. "In particular, we are keen that all of us be DEFRA' ministers, with, for example, all of us carrying some direct responsibility for environmental, rural and agricultural issues -- sustainable development is the fundamental principle of DEFRA's work, not just a turn of phrase." The reshuffle won't make any difference to anyone dealing with the department, the spokesman said.
Michael Meacher's title is now Minister of State for Environment and Agri-Environment. He is responsible for the following portfolios: climate change; horizontal and international environmental issues; GMOs; plant health, plant variety rights and seeds; agri-environment, including non-food crops and organics; chemicals; waste, including radioactive waste and incineration waste; business and the environment; and the Environment Agency. He is also Chair of the Green Ministers -- the group of ministers that is dedicated to ensuring that each government department become more environmentally sustainable.
Alun Michael, Minister of State for Rural Affairs and Urban Quality of Life, will be responsible, amongst other things, for environmental liability, air quality and noise. He is also the Department's Green Minister.
Elliot Morley, Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries, Water and Nature Protection, includes in his portfolio, water quality and flooding. Finally, Lord Whitty, Parliamentary Secretary for Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy is responsible for, amongst other things, transport and the environment, and energy efficiency and other energy issues.
There will no longer be the situation where members of one sector -- such as agriculture -- would deal with only one minister, the DEFRA spokesman told edie. "That's the old way of doing it," he said.
However, recently a couple of sector groups have called for responsibility for their sector to become less divided. Last year, the bioenergy industry called for an industry champion (see related story), and this week the waste management industry has done the same.
posted Sept 15 02
Princess spells out plight of farmersBy Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent (Filed: 13/09/2002)
The convenience culture, an aversion to risk and a failure to trust people with lifelong experience has left much of Britain out of touch with farming and the countryside, the Princess Royal said yesterday.
Speaking at a meeting of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Society in London, the princess said a "dangerous" attitude was emerging, in which "some people believe it is unnecessary to produce food in this country". The princess went on: "We live in a world of convenience - everything designed for everything taking less time. "This makes it difficult to explain why people want to live a different life, spending time looking after livestock, working long hours controlled by the weather. "If we are to have an integrated society, where people from a wide range of different cultures and backgrounds live together in harmony, one very important component is a strong farming industry. It is what people see when they visit the countryside."
The princess said farming and rural businesses were struggling to rebuild their lives and livelihoods at a time when supermarkets were squeezing any profit from farming and the Government was putting new environmental pressures on farmers. "Even if farm incomes were buoyant, this wouldn't be easy or quick. But farm incomes are anything but buoyant."
The princess added that trust in farmers had been eroded because society no longer valued their experience and knowledge. She said: "Those with experience and understanding of the conditions are no longer trusted. "Trusting people has become a bit of a risk - we live in a society which is trying to be risk-free, but it is necessary to take risks."
posted Sept 15 02
Foot and Brussels(Filed: 12/09/2002)
Virtually everybody accepts by now that the way in which the Government, including what was then Maff, handled last year's outbreak of foot and mouth was appallingly incompetent. Nevertheless, it still comes as a shock to learn that, because of British shortcomings, Brussels looks set to take over responsibility for the handling of the disease, pretty much lock, stock and barrel.
Under a draft directive, The Telegraph has learnt, henceforth both policy and planning on how to deal with foot and mouth would be laid down by the European Commission. Vaccination, rather than culling, would be the principal means of dealing with any future outbreak, and Brussels would ensure that it had an adequate stock of vaccine in reserve. Decisions as to how and when the plans were implemented would also in effect be made in Brussels.
This is dramatic stuff, especially since the European Commission had previously shown little desire to extend its remit over such an obviously tricky subject. Indeed, Brussels was generally considered to have been in cahoots with Maff last year, despite the latter's glaring deficiencies.
Its hand appears to have been forced principally by the European Parliament, which is conducting an extremely critical public inquiry into the British outbreak. Other governments, too, have also intimated that, after BSE and foot and mouth, London should not be allowed to manage another agricultural disaster on its own.
As far as vaccination is concerned, we have argued before that this should be the way to go in the event of another outbreak of foot and mouth. The rest of the proposed directive, though, is not only humiliating for Britain but also disturbing. The failings of the British Government last year were indefensible - and many farmers would probably add unforgiveable, as well. But would Brussels really have been any better, either at vaccination or culling?
Handling any epidemic, animal or human, requires not only technical and administrative expertise, but also local knowledge and political sensitivity. Last year, we could at least all shout out at the Government when it made such a mess of things. But there will be no direct accountability if Brussels is in charge. With something as damaging and emotive as foot and mouth, that could prove extremely dangerous.
posted Sept 15 02
Call for outbreak inquiry in Durham
County Durham had 85 cases of the disease
Farmers in County Durham are calling for a public inquiry into the handling of the outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease in the county. Other areas, including nearby Northumberland and Cumbria, have held their own inquiries.
They identified the failings and problems that planners should be aware of if there is ever another outbreak of the disease.
Now farmers in the county want a similar inquiry to be held in County Durham.
Sept 11 02
Cattle Disaster Still Felt in BritainLITTLE LANGDALE, England, Sept. 8 -- Caroline Macaulay still recalls how it felt to see the investment of her lifetime's savings brought low by last year's outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, which scared tourists away for months from places like her country guest house in the Lake District.
New York Times
...Now, the role played by big business, especially the giant food company Nestlé, in the handling of the outbreak is also coming to light, with the publication of a report last week by the Cumbria County Council.
The report examines the reasons behind one of the British authorities' most perplexing about-faces, when the pro-business prime minister, Tony Blair, first indicated a readiness to vaccinate livestock and then backed away from the plan -- a decision critics say prolonged the outbreak and damaged many livelihoods in rural Britain.
Sept 11 02
Blood donor restrictions also apply to retirees-- Some military retirees have been surprised to find that they are no longer eligible to give blood, according to officials at the Armed Forces Blood Program Office here. A substantial number of active-duty and retired military personnel cannot donate blood because of past duty assignments in the United Kingdom and Europe.
In the past few months, many retirees have come forward to donate blood because of news reports calling for blood donations. However, some retirees cannot give blood because of standards implemented last fall by the Food and Drug Administration as a precautionary measure against exposure to the human form of mad cow disease.
...For information on blood deferral policies and on risks associated with travel or assignment in the United Kingdom and Europe (sic!), visit the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine Website.
Sept 11 02
County official aids FMD action planA planner who was at the forefront of Northumberland's efforts to tackle the foot-and-mouth crisis is helping the Government to prepare for any future epidemic.
County council emergency planning officer Ian Clough is advising the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on the formulation of a new foot-and-mouth contingency plan.....
Sept 11 02
Foot and mouth outbreak cost 'would cost billions'The Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry says any outbreak of foot and mouth disease would be the biggest peacetime emergency in Australia's history.
Sept 11 02
DIFFICULTIES OF MAKING ENDS MEET09:00 - 10 September 2002 One farmer who knows only too well what the realities are for making a living from farming is Robin Head, who has a small farm near Bampton.
Western Morning News
In order to make ends meet, Mr Head began working as a farm labourer on neighbouring farms.
But as more and more people decided to get out of farming, that source of income, which meshed well with work on his own farm, dried up and instead Mr Head has been working as a building labourer.
Mr Head believes that the difficulties facing him and many other farmers in the Westcountry could have serious long-term effects on food production in this country.
"We are becoming ever more complacent about our food," he said. "Only farmers now understand the knife-edge on which it is produced, emerging each year from a logistics nightmare where variables such as disease, weather, machinery breakdowns, bureaucracy and plagues of pests all interact at random.
"It is surely the height of irresponsibility for a government to stand by and watch its country's food-producing capabilities slowly drain away.
"It happened to the coal mining industry, but at least the country could still produce power from other sources.
"What contingency plan is there when we can no longer feed ourselves? Let the public eat hedges, since these appear to be the main output that farmers are required to produce?"
Sept 10 02
WORK TOGETHER OR THE FUTURE LOOKS BLEAKMARK CLOUGH
Western Morning News
Farmers across the Westcountry are being urged to learn to work together or risk leaving themselves vulnerable to outside forces such as the power of the supermarkets. The warning has come as the National Farmers' Union launches a campaign to highlight how little farmers receive from the retail price of their food.
Chris Bradford, who has worked as a consultant in the food and drink industry on both sides of the Atlantic and who is currently working for the South West Regional Development Agency, said that dealing with supermarkets would always be difficult for farmers until they learned to work co-operatively.
Mr Bradford, who is working on the South West RDA's Buy Local campaign, said: "In my opinion supermarkets are not giving the agriculture industry a fair break.
"Supermarkets want to buy cheap and sell for the maximum they can get, which unfortunately is the way things are at the moment.
"The only way farmers have any chance of standing up to supermarkets is to co-operate so that they are not so vulnerable. That is a model that has worked particularly well in North America." Mr Bradford also said that in order to increase the margins for farmers they should look to sell more of the their produce directly. "They should look to sell as much as they possibly can directly through farmers' markets, mail order, farm shops - anything that will provide farmers with a vehicle to get their produce in the market without having to agree to supermarkets' demands," he said. "Supermarkets are not designed to help the farmer, they are designed to maximise the profits of the supermarket. If they can dominate the food chain that is what they will do. "One of the problems that we have in this country is that we do not have the co-operative ethos that is so much stronger in the USA and Europe. Farmers there are much more open to working as a co-operative and put the co-operative before the interests of the individual. "We have a new generation of farmers and soon I think we will see a lot more work towards co-operatives. "I respect farmers enormously, but they have got to drop some of the old traditions and some of the in-built prejudices they have got towards working together. "If farmers are going to survive, then the best way of doing it is by working together and not allowing supermarkets to browbeat them. The producer is the most important link in the food chain."
Farmers in the Westcountry hope that the National Farmers' Union campaign to highlight the gap between what they are paid for their produce and what it sells for in shops will encourage consumers to demand local produce. ......
Among those keen to see the NFU campaign bring home to Westcountry shoppers just how little of the money they spend in supermarkets finds its way back to farmers is Cornish beef and sheep farmer Steve Bucknell, who is county NFU chairman.
"All we are asking as farmers is for a little bit more of the retail price which I don't think is asking too much," said Mr Bucknell, who farms near Newquay. "What we are asking for under this campaign is that the margins come a little bit closer. It's not the abattoirs that are getting fat out of this. It's when the meat moves on that the price goes up. The supermarkets will put as much as they can on to a commodity. I know they have got their overheads the same as all of us, but even so what they charge is a long way from what farmers receive."
David MacBean, whose farm at Wembury overlooks Plymouth Sound, said it was vital that shoppers realised the importance of asking for local produce.
"People have to go into shops and demand food that is produced locally. We are individuals, but supermarkets are all-powerful although they do listen to their customers," he said.
Mr MacBean and his family run what he called a "typical Westcountry mixed farm".
"We are the sort of farm that has created a background for tourism in the Westcountry and that brings in £2.4 billion a year to the region," he said.
Mr MacBean pointed out that buying locally-produced food also had significant environmental benefits.
"By buying local the food is not travelling thousands of miles round the country and even further. Our sort of farm is good for wildlife. We have got badgers, foxes, birds and all sorts of wildlife, which is what people expect when they come to the Westcountry." ....
DIRECT SALES CAN BE ONE WAY FORWARD09:00 - 10 September 2002
Western Morning News
Some farmers have already decided that the best way forward for them is to start marketing their produce direct to the public. One such enterprise is Somerset Farm Direct, which was set up in 1999 by Matt Wood and his family, and is based on the fringes of Exmoor.
"The price of lamb was terrible then," he said. "It was rock bottom, so we realised that the only way to improve the viability of the farm was to sell direct to the public and get a greater share of the sale price. We have cut out the middleman, which is the supermarket."
But Mr Wood said nobody should be under any illusions that direct sales was an easy option for farmers.
"One of the things to take into account for us is that there are three of us here, my father and one of my brothers," he said. "Selling direct takes a lot of effort. Selling direct is not really viable for one farm to do, hence Somerset Farm Direct is based on nine farms, including our own.
"At the moment we can sell everything we are producing, but this is not the definitive solution to make farming viable, although it's a good step in the right direction.
"Over the last few years there has been a proliferation of direct sales companies."
Somerset Farms Direct now sells to 3,000 customers stretching from Lands End right up to Edinburgh, all of them seeking a quality of meat they do not feel they can get elsewhere.
Sept 10 02
SPENDING ON FOOD SOARS - BUT THE FARMER'S SHARE OF IT DECLINESIn the last ten years, farmers' share of the amount - now £55 billion - spent on food has fallen by 10 per cent.
Western Morning News
I remember suggesting, back in 1991, that if farmers could only capture a single measly extra penny of every £1 that the consumer spent on food, most of our problems would be at an end.
At the time, British consumers were spending a total of £44 billion on household food, of which just under £14 billion was finding its way back to farmers.
Total income from farming stood at £2 billion, so 1 per cent of consumer expenditure would indeed have boosted incomes by a handsome £440 million, or over 20 per cent.
That year, 1991, was not a particularly good year for farming, which is why the suggestion occurred. But little did I imagine that, so far from improving as the years rolled by, and farmers responded more or less enthusiastically to all the siren voices calling for co-operation, value-added and partnership in the food chain, the situation would become significantly worse.
Last year, consumers spent £55 billion on household food, of which just £13 billion represented the farmer's share, returning a total income (after deducting costs of production) of just £1.8 billion.
So in ten years, the farmer's share of consumer expenditure fell from 32 per cent to 24 per cent. Instead of earning an extra penny in the pound, we had succeeded instead in losing 8p.
To put it another way, farm output last year was £4.6 billion - 35 per cent - lower than it would have been had we managed to maintain the 1991 status quo.
What then is the explanation? How can it be that consumers should be spending a collective £11 billion more on food now than they were ten years ago, without any of it finding its way back to the men and women who produced that food in the first place?
The answer is a complex one, which has something to do with politics, rather more with economics and an awful lot to do with market power. The political element in the picture is the MacSharry reforms of the CAP, which introduced a range of direct payments on cattle, sheep and crops.
As with all such subsidies, it is consumers who gain in the long run, as market prices to farmers fall in almost direct proportion to the size of the payment.
The economics of the situation are rather less avoidable.
As products become more sophisticated and better packaged, in response to society's demands, so inevitably the cost of the raw material will represent an ever-diminishing proportion of the end price.
For example, when the Westcountry peasant's standard tipple was a pint of rough cider, probably 75 per cent of what he paid for it went to cover the cost of the apples, with the balance for his neighbour's labour.
These days, an industrial cider-maker can brew something like 5,000 pints - retail value £10,000 - from a single tonne of apples; farm gate value £80.
And if what he brews is actually an alcopop, retailing at the equivalent of £3, then the discrepancy is even greater.
There is nothing very much that can be done about that, except, of course, for farmers to add the value themselves, by getting involved in processing, either individually or collectively.
Milklink, with its recent £30 million investment in UHT processing capacity, and Triple S Ranch, the successful farmer-controlled meat processor, show what can be done.
But even the largest farmer-controlled marketing groups are relatively powerless in the face of the major supermarkets.
They command the market power to maintain their profit margins, almost no matter what.
All of the additional costs which have been loaded into the meat chain by BSE-related measures haven't made so much as a scratch in the margins of the multiples.
They have simply been passed back to the weakest link in the chain - the poor old livestock farmer. To some extent, this is the inevitable outcome of market forces at work. And to the extent that it provides the consumer with a better value for money product, it is to our collective advantage.
But it is not a cost-free process. In the case of South West farming, the cost is being counted in falling output, fewer jobs, an increasingly neglected countryside and a demoralised rural community.
Put that lot into the equation, and maybe food does not seem quite so cheap, or the benefits quite so clear-cut, after all.
So what, if anything, can be done to ensure that farmers can earn enough from producing food to be able to continue to perform all the other roles which society expects of them?
Environmental payments and diversification are part of the answer.
But as Sir Donald Curry and his Commission recognised, food production must itself be profitable, if agriculture - as distinct from rural asset management - is to have a long-term future.
Farmers have the key role to play themselves, in responding efficiently, imaginatively and collectively to consumer demands.
But they will need help - from the regulators, from the retailers and from consumers, if they are to succeed.
The signs are that consumers, especially here in the South West, do have an understanding of the real price of cheap food, and are more than prepared to play their part, by making a point of buying local produce wherever possible.
But we still need the backing of the major supermarkets and processors in making sure that that local produce is on the shelves, at a fair price to both producer and consumer, in the first place.
The supermarkets have been very good at talking about working in partnership with strong and successful farmer suppliers.
The time has come now for them to put their money where their mouth is.
Sept 10 02
Re: CAP reforms must support farmersDate: 10 September 2002
Sir - Like a wet woolly blanket, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the current discussion on its reform (report, Sept 9) lie heavily on the public consciousness. Boredom sets in, largely because it is all too complicated and confusing.
Yet in the tons of official documents and the interminable prattling from platforms, no one has taken the trouble to fashion a few simple perspectives for the benefit of public understanding.
Take the actual case of a brilliantly managed 1,000-acre farm, growing arable crops of wheat, barley and oil seed rape. In the past financial year, it made a profit of £25,000 and received CAP subsidies, payments, call them what you will, of £77,000. Only mental arithmetic is required to perceive that the predicted small annual reductions in these CAP monies will soon extinguish the profit.
This farmer, and hundreds like him, are told by the powers-that-be to get "closer to the market".
Unfortunately the public does not chew wheat or grind up oil seed with its teeth. These crops have to be sold on to the processing markets. But the business and marketing control on this and similar farms is on the top line; every penny is squeezed out of the crops going off and the materials coming in.
Payment for environmental "good works" must take the place of CAP crop subsidies, he is then advised. In most cases, this will amount to peanuts.
No, this farmer and his kind will survive or perish on the world market prices for grains and oil seeds in the years to come, should CAP reform wend its controversial way to eliminating most of the existing crop payments.
But the US farm Bill has underwritten crop prices for its farmers to guarantee, in effect, a profit for them, and all the while the old Russian communist empire is flexing its crop-growing muscle, with Ukrainian and Bulgarian grain entering our markets.
What an intriguing thought it is that, in our reformist zeal, we denied our efficient breadbasket farmers that degree of money support they need to survive and compete on the global grain scene.
Lord Barber of Tewkesbury, London SW1
Sept 10 02
Fury over new GM crop trialsJAMES REYNOLDS and FORDYCE MAXWELL
MINISTERS were last night accused of forcing through genetically modified crop trials in Scotland - despite admitting public confidence had been dented by a contamination scare earlier this year.
The oilseed rape trials will go ahead at sites in Daviot, Aberdeenshire and Newport-on-Tay, Fife. They will be conducted by Aventis, the biotech company which last month admitted rogue material had contaminated previous crop tests.
Critics said they were "angry and dismayed" at the move, claiming it flew in the face of public concern. They accused the Executive of rubber-stamping a decision already taken at Westminster.....
Sept 10 02
Farmers launch fight to save their industryBy Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent (Filed: 09/09/2002)
More than 400 jobs have been lost in farming every week since Labour came to power, farmers will disclose today at the launch of a 10-day publicity campaign before the Liberty and Livelihood March and party conferences.
Farmers will take to the streets to highlight the crisis in agriculture and to gather support for the demonstration on Sept 22.
The campaign will culminate in Ben Gill, the president of the National Farmers' Union, leading a delegation on the march.
The Farming Counts campaign is seen as a last-ditch attempt by the NFU to make the public aware of why farming is the cornerstone of the rural economy and what would be lost if it were allowed to disappear.
It will tell the public that farming is in its worst state for decades because farmers earn little more than a quarter of the price that supermarkets charge for food and often significantly less than the cost of production. Mr Gill said yesterday that an average basket of farm produce, including beef, eggs, milk, bread, tomatoes and apples, typically cost £37 in the shops. But a farmer received only £11.
Mr Gill said that most farmers were struggling on incomes that had plummeted by 71 per cent since the mid-1990s. The average farm income was around £7,000, significantly below the minimum wage. "This enormous price discrepancy shows clearly why farmers are having such a difficult time, with many not even recouping the cost of production," he said.
Mr Gill said that cereal farmers were paid less than a twelfth of the price of a loaf of bread for their grain. If just one extra penny on a loaf went directly to farmers, the farm gate price would increase by a third, he added.
The situation was no better for livestock producers. Pig farmers were paid 96 pence a kilo for their animals, less than a seventh of the retail price of £6.97 a kilo for back bacon.
Frustrated by what they saw as government indifference, farmers will call on the public to support them by buying British produce, primarily by looking for the Little Red Tractor logo on food products.
Mr Gill insisted the campaign was "not a whinge" but an attempt to make the public aware of the untenable state of farming. He said that if farming did not return to profitability, the industry could disappear, taking with it 550,000 jobs and the heart of the food industry, the country's largest employer. With farmers caring for three quarters of the land, the crisis could also result in profound changes to the countryside.
Sept 9 02
New FMD measures proposedFordyce Maxwell Rural Affairs Editor
THE Scottish Landowners Federation has proposed a number of measures which, it claims, would ensure that any future outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease would be dealt with quickly and effectively.
Andrew Douglas, chairman of the federation's agriculture committee, said yesterday: "The mêlée of mixed messages, confusing information and conflicting demands and expectations that characterised much of the 2001 epidemic must not be repeated."
That meant that the Scottish Executive's contingency plan must provide a framework to minimise the risk of disease and maximise eradication efficiency. Introducing the SLF's submission on the Scottish Executive's proposed contingency plan, Douglas said that it seemed to set out the process and areas of responsibility for dealing with a major disease outbreak. But not enough attention was given to direct communication with those directly affected.
Measures proposed by the SLF include: tough import regulations to minimise the risk of disease; an immediate livestock movement ban throughout the UK as soon as disease is confirmed; bio-security measures, based on full risk assessment and cost benefit analysis; emergency procedures agreed by all relevant stakeholders and tested in practice.
THE Cumbria foot-and-mouth report was published yesterday with 31 recommendations for the government.
Cumbria was the hardest-hit region of the UK with more than one million animals slaughtered on more than 3,000 farms. The committee of inquiry, initiated by the county council and chaired by Professor Phil Thomas, former principal and chief executive of the Scottish Agricultural College, concentrated on evidence from those directly affected.
The main conclusion is, predictably, that the FMD epidemic was badly handled. It also concludes that the government has failed to learn any lessons. It claims that the draft contingency plan, put out to consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is inadequate and needs "very substantial revision".
It also says that bio-security at points of entry to Britain from overseas has improved but is still not good enough when control of legal and illegal imports of meat are a key consideration in avoiding any future FMD outbreak.
It recommends that the government establish an independent working party to develop a strategy for defence against a future foot-and-mouth outbreak.
Sept 7 02
WE WERE LET DOWNA HARD-HITTING report into the foot-and-mouth epidemic which devastated Cumbria has accused the government of confusion, disorder and delay. The county's independent report today made 31 recommendations to try and ensure that everything possible was done to prevent an outbreak occurring again.
North Western Mail
Cumbria was the country's worst hit area having more than 43 percent of all cases and losing £266m in business and tourism.
Professor Phil Thomas, the chairman of the report inquiry team, said: "Official accounts of the evolving policies convey the impression of a considered and measured response to an escalating animal disease crisis with some limited problems.
"In contrast, on the basis of the evidence gathered in Cumbria, we found there had been confusion, disorder and delay. We found widespread dissatisfaction with the system and many of the disease control and clean-up measures."
The leader of Cumbria County Council, Councillor Rex Toft, told a press conference at Rheged, Penrith: "There are many lessons to be learned from our experiences in Cumbria.
"The recommendations in the report are to be considered by the European Parliament and will be sent to the UK government. We are trying to ensure everything possible is done to prevent an outbreak occurring again or, if an outbreak occurs, to minimise its impact."
The county council commissioned its own public inquiry after the government refused to hold one.
It calls for Whitehall to settle all outstanding costs incurred during the outbreak as a matter of urgency and also claims the government's agriculture ministry, Defra, will have to work hard to restore confidence.
At a series of meetings the team met with farmers, tourist operators and others affected by the epidemic, which saw livestock slaughtered on 2,827 farms.
A sample group of 54 Cumbrians affected by the outbreak were also interviewed to assess their mental well-being and it was found mental suffering among the group was far higher than the national average.
Some 20 per cent showed signs of post- traumatic syndrome with 11 per cent being treated for clinical depression.
It is feared Defra will largely ignore the report but it is hoped Brussels will pressure the government into accepting its findings. These include improved efforts to prevent further outbreaks, a revision of epidemic emergency plans and improved communications between Defra and regional offices.
Sept 7 02
Nestlé blamed for failure to vaccinateBy Chris Johnston
NESTLE, the world's biggest consumer food conglomerate, was blamed yesterday in an independent report for the failure to vaccinate livestock against foot-and-mouth disease. The Cumbria Foot and Mouth Task Force report said that Nestlé, the region's only milk producer, had "serious reservations" against accepting milk from vaccinated cows because it believed that consumers would refuse to buy it.
"With farmers reluctant to agree to vaccination until they could gain some reassurance from the Government about the implications for farm produce, the Nestlé factor' appears to have been crucial," the 124-page document says.
At the height of the epidemic in April last year, The Times reported that Nestlé said that customers would "source their requirements from elsewhere in the world if vaccination were to be introduced". The Government had obtained European Union approval to vaccinate in late March, but the decision to proceed was never taken.
A Nestlé spokeswoman denied that the company had lobbied the Government against vaccination and said that Peter Blackburn, then chief executive, acted in his capacity as president of the Food and Drink Federation.
Cumbria was the region most seriously affected by the disease, with 893 outbreaks that accounted for 44 per cent of infected farms.
The report also found that there was "confusion, disorder and delay" and a "range of systems and communications failings" after the discovery of the disease. Halting animal movements was crucial in containing it, but the report concluded that there were "delays that should have been avoided".
Despite the consequences of the outbreak, the report found little evidence that lessons have been learnt in the case of another epidemic.
Sept 7 02
Plan to combat foot and mouth 'still not ready'By Nigel Bunyan(Filed: 07/09/2002)
Britain remains ill-equipped to deal with any new outbreak of foot and mouth disease because of the Government's failure to learn lessons from last year's epidemic, according to an independent report released yesterday. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was accused of failing to produce an adequate contingency plan despite delays in decision-taking exacerbating last year's crisis. Its efforts so far need "very substantial revision". A strategy that would engage all the relevant agencies, including local authorities, was one vital missing component. The authors of the Cumbria Foot and Mouth Disease report said they were disturbed by Government failings when the outbreak was identified in February last year. "A lack of appropriate contingency planning, and a failure to adhere to some of the provisions in the contingency plan that existed, compromised the foot and mouth disease control campaign from the outset."
They warned: "It is no longer sensible to consider foot and mouth disease wholly in isolation from other areas of emergency planning. The devastation the disease can bring is now fully apparent and, after September 11, bio-terrorism must be regarded as an additional risk factor."
The inquiry team was funded by Cumbria County Council and chaired by Prof Phil Thomas, former chief executive of the Scottish Agricultural College and former Professor of Agriculture at Glasgow University. Nearly half of all last year's cases were in Cumbria, where more than a million livestock were culled from 3,000 farms.
In future, restrictions on movement should be introduced "as soon as the first case is diagnosed", said the inquiry team, which also called for more epidemiological training. The report, which is to be considered by the European Parliament, welcomed moves to improve import controls but there were doubts that these were sufficiently rigorous to prevent the disease entering from abroad.
One of the report's key recommendations was for an independent working party to develop a strategy to combat foot and mouth. It also called for a Government statement on the future of the site at Great Orton where 500,000 carcasses were buried.
It said the site gave cause for unease, adding: "Our information from the Environment Agency is that the site will require to be monitored for at least 20 years."
Sept 7 02
Foot and mouth report highlights pollution fearsPeter Hetherington Saturday September 7, 2002 The Guardian
The long term impact of the foot and mouth crisis is giving cause for concern nearly a year after the last outbreak. An independent report published yesterday also revealed disquiet over inadequate government contingency plans for another epidemic.
The report of Cumbria county council's inquiry into the crisis raises fears about the UK's largest burial site at Watchtree, Great Orton, near Carlisle, where 500,000 carcasses are buried.
The report said that the environment agency has told the council that the site, an old airfield, will need to be monitored to determine pollution levels for at least 20 years. Although there has been a proposal to turn much of it into a nature reserve, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs cannot yet give an indication of its future prospects.
"Defra has not been able to confirm to the community that the site will not be brought into use at some stage in the future," it said. "In our view, the continuing uncertainty over the future... is leading to suspicion and distrust, particularly given the circumstances of the site's creation... many residents are of the view that the site has blighted their locality."
According to the inquiry, chaired by Phil Thomas, chief executive of the Scottish Agricultural College and professor of agriculture at Glasgow University, disposing of carcasses at landfill sites, mass burial and burning livestock on pyres raised environmental problems and "exposed serious shortcomings" in communication between government departments, national agencies, and local councils.
Some of the methods of carcass disposal "raised significant local issues" that should be avoided in any future outbreak. With almost half of last year's foot and mouth cases in Cumbria, and more than a million animals killed on 3,000 farms, the report also raises concern about an updated Defra contingency plan, which it is circulating for consultation.
The report warned: "We have concluded the plan requires substantial revision. We have also concluded that as a matter of fundamental policy it should be revised as a multi-agency plan (embracing government departments, quangoes and local councils) ... it is no longer sensible to consider FMD wholly in isolation from other areas of emergency planning. The devastation the disease can bring is now fully apparent and, after September 11, bio-terrorism must be regarded as an additional risk.
Like previous reports and a recent inquiry by the national audit office - which put the cost of the epidemic to the public and private sector at £8bn - the Cumbria report criticised the government last year for failing to immediately halt animal movements after the disease was discovered.
The rapid spread of the disease in Cumbria was due to the failure to identify, destroy and dispose of exposed animals quickly, the report added.
Sept 7 02
Countryside marchLetter from the Deputy Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance
Sir, The Reverend Graham Hellier (letter, September 4) suggests that the "shrill dispute" over hunting means the Liberty and Livelihood March will miss the opportunity to address more important countryside issues. I disagree.
The march is about exactly those issues which he raises: agricultural reform, farming incomes and rural services as well as the affordable housing crisis in rural areas and the increasing threat of greenfield development. That is why the majority of marchers will not be people who hunt, although all will support the right to do so.
The marchers will demand answers to the countryside's problems in place of this destructive political obsession with ending an innocuous tradition whose demise would not help a single rural (or urban) family, with no gain to animal welfare. They will demand constructive policy rather than destructive politics. That is what this march is all about.
The Liberty and Livelihood March is exactly what it says -- a demonstration by rural people demanding the right to live their lives responsibly in the way they choose and demanding that the Government addresses the real problems of the countryside.
DAVID LOWES, Deputy Chief Executive, Countryside Alliance, 367 Kennington Road, SE11 4PT.
Sept 7 02
Virus fight a shambles: CumbriaBy Johann Tasker
CONFUSION, disorder and delay marred the fight against foot-and-mouth in Cumbria, says the county's official report into the crisis. The final report from the independent public inquiry into last year's epidemic in Cumbria is being published on Friday (6 September). Inquiry chairman Phil Thomas spoke to the media before launching the document at a special conference at Rheged, near Penrith.
"Official accounts of the evolving policies convey the impression of a considered and measured response to an escalating animal disease crisis, with some limited problems. "In contrast, on the basis of the evidence gathered in Cumbria, we found there had been confusion, disorder and delay.
"In the majority of cases, we encountered appreciation and praise for the dedication and hard work of the personnel who were actively engaged in dealing with the crisis. "But, we found widespread dissatisfaction with the system' and [with] many of the disease control and clean-up measures."
Cumbria was the county worst hit by foot-and-mouth. It suffered 893 out of 2030 cases confirmed in Britain between February and September 2001.
In addition to the 893 infected farms, a further 1934 farms were subjected to complete or partial animal slaughter as part of disease control and eradication measures.
Prof Thomas said: "Restrictions on livestock movements also impacted on non-infected farms, resulting in livestock management problems and economic losses. "As a result of restrictions on public access to the countryside, tourism, outdoor recreation, public amenities and some public services were also badly affected."
The report make 31 recommendations, saying the countryside should never be closed in the event of a future outbreak. Access to the countryside should be maintained on a "risk-assessed" basis, it adds.
The government's foot-and-mouth contingency plan should be revised.
An independent working party should be established to develop an integrated risk-based strategy for defence against foot-and-mouth, the report says. The government should issue an unequivocal statement about the future of a mass burial site which was used to dispose of thousands of carcasses near Great Orton.
And ministers should help the economic regeneration of the region.
The Cumbria Rural Action Zone Programme should be used to assist development of higher education, research and consultancy in Cumbria, the report says.
Sept 6 02
'UK lessons' in Cumbria reportBy Johann Tasker
MINISTERS have been warned not to ignore the findings of Cumbria's foot-and-mouth inquiry which are published on Friday (6 September). The 120-page report, to be launched at Rheged, near Penrith, is expected to be the most graphic account yet of the outbreak. It will make about 30 detailed recommendations, including plans to develop a strategy to fight any future disease outbreak in the county. It will warn that the scale of last year's crisis, which engulfed the entire region, must never be repeated.
Cumbria County Council leader Rex Toft said: "I'll be doing all I can to ensure those in government and in Europe sit up and take notice.
"It would be criminal not to learn from the experiences in this county. "I firmly believe the Cumbria report will be of great importance in ensuring every lesson is learnt from the devastating impact of last year's outbreak."
Cumbria was the county worst-hit by the disease. It suffered 893 of Britain's 2030 outbreaks. The last recorded case of the disease was on 30 September, 2001, at Little Asby, Appleby.
Inquiry chairman Phil Thomas was asked to take a different approach from previous investigations in Devon and Northumberland. He chose to focus on the harrowing experience of people caught up in the crisis as well as its effect on the countryside.
The rural economy has still not recovered, even though tourists have returned after footpaths were closed for much of last year.
The original timetable suggested that his findings would be published in July. Such was the scale of the investigation that Prof Thomas spent an extra six weeks writing his final report.
Government officials are expected to come in for special criticism.
Brigadier Alex Birtwistle, the soldier who led the fight against the epidemic in Cumbria, gave evidence to inquiry officials earlier this year.
A lack of management, leadership and resources resulted in major failures to control the disease during the first three weeks of the outbreak, he said.
Nick Hill from the National Trust said in evidence that government officials had lacked knowledge of hill-farming in Cumbria.
Hefted sheep flocks were endangered because officials didn't realise it was lambing time and were unable to tell farmers whether to move sheep off the hills.
Sept 5 02
Thousands lose in subsidy lotteryMILLIONS of pounds in subsidies are being redistributed among just 196 farmers who will each get about £72,000 to boost the environment. Up to £14.26 million is being paid to the Scottish producers under the Rural Stewardship Scheme.
Projects include grassland management to increase skylark numbers, wetland habitat creation for otters and field margins to provide wildlife habitats.
Scottish Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie said the money would help farmers manage 75,000ha of land for the benefit of the environment over five years. But the move has enraged industry leaders, who said much of the money had been taken from 16,000 Scottish farmers who have seen their subsidies cut by 3%.
Jim Walker, president of the National Farmers' Union Scotland, said more than 600 farmers had applied to join the scheme, but 416 had been rejected.
"To then give money back to just 196 producers is absolutely calamitous."
The Rural Stewardship Scheme is one of a number of measures co-funded by Brussels as part of the Rural Development Plan for Scotland.....
Sept 4 02
Cattle market faces bleak futureOne of the biggest livestock markets in the East Midlands could close unless business picks up, farmers and market operators say. The Newark market in Nottinghamshire reopened in February 2002, but sales have remained low because of the lingering effects of the foot-and-mouth crisis.
Farm auctioneer Stuart Rose of Gascoines said farmers are struggling with government regulations on the movement of cattle, and trade at the market has plummeted.
"Before the foot-and-mouth crisis, we would see 500 fat cattle and 1,000 sheep on a market day, but now we only get 150 cattle and between 300 and 400 sheep," he said.
Other cattle markets around the East Midlands have also seen a drop in sales, including the Louth market in Lincolnshire.
Turnover at the Newark market north of Nottingham near the Lincolnshire border has plummeted from £35m a year to just under £5m annually.
There is only a Wednesday market and the Monday market has been dropped, Mr Rose said.
Sept 4 02
Cloning 'must not be profit-led'US scientists say cloned animals are safe to eat....
The body that advises the UK Government on biotechnology is set to recommend that animal cloning should not purely be driven by commercial motives. In a report on the controversial issue of animal cloning, published on Tuesday, it will also propose that animal welfare legislation is updated to cover genetically modified (GM) animals.
The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) advises the government on biotechnology issues affecting agriculture and the environment.
What we are trying to ensure is that genetic biotechnology... gets used wholly for the public good and isn't dominated wholly by profit motive
In its second major report, it is also expected to call for public debate and new regulations to cover future animal cloning developments.
Sept 3 02
Sunday, 22 SeptemberTHE Countryside Alliance Liberty and Livelihood march takes place in London on Sunday, 22 September. Although organisers say the march is not just about hunting, outrage at the prospect of a ban lit the fuse.
The march is also about rural liberty and livelihoods.
And the alliance set down a five-point charter to which it says anyone attending the event must agree.
The charter demands that the government:
For the latest news and background stories to the event, click here
- Defends the right of rural people to live their lives responsibly in the way they choose
- Safeguards rural people from prejudiced attacks on hunting with dogs and all other field sports
- Respects the values and customs of rural communities
- Ensures any laws directed at rural people have their consent
- Addresses the real problems of the countryside which are destroying its communities, its culture, and its children's future"
posted Sept 3 02
New Civil Service chief to streamline 'Blair bureaucracy'
Sir Andrew Turnbull, the new head of the Civil Service, is to streamline the centralised system of running Whitehall introduced by Tony Blair.
...In his circular to staff, Sir Andrew said officials must work more closely with ministers when they develop policy. He said: "We all need to know from the start what we want to achieve and be clear that our policies are going to make a difference to people when they are put into practice. And, we must be honest with ministers -- letting them know well in advance if there is likely to be a problem so that we can prepare to deal with it together."
Sept 3 02
ASH MOOR SITE FUTURE IS STILL UNCERTAIN09:00 - 03 September 2002 Government Minister Elliot Morley has officially confirmed that all three Westcountry sites will not be used as foot and mouth disposal pits.
Western Morning News
Devon county councillors will hear at a meeting tomorrow that the Minister for the Department of the Environment Food and Affairs (Defra) made the pledge during a recent meeting with a council delegation. Arscott Farm, near Holsworthy and Westlake Farm, Oakford, will be fully restored and revert to their original condition and ownership.
Although Defra has agreed to restore Ash Moor, near Petrockstow in North Devon, to its original condition, it has also offered the council the chance to buy the land at a cost of £350,000 if it wishes to make an additional improvements - even though the Audit Commission valued the site at one third of the price.
If the council was to purchase the land, it is believed it would consider creating a wildlife pond and building a footpath to link the Tarka Trail with the Petrockstow road.
Sept 3 02
Earth Summit: After days of intense negotiations, leaders settle on a blueprint to keep the planet alive.... Below are the headline resolutions signed by world leaders in Johannesburg 03 September 2002
Failed to set any targets increasing renewable energy, thus falling short of one of the most important yardsticks for success. It did agree to phase out harmful subsidies "where appropriate", but included passages boosting nuclear power and the fossil fuels that are the main cause of global warming.
How it was reached
The way in which the world gets its energy was the most important issue at the summit, and the last big one to be settled. Attempts to increase the rate of renewable energy -- wind, wave and solar -- were stymied by opposition from the world's major oil producers (Opec) and oil's biggest consumer, the United States.
The EU and Latin America wanted a global target to boost the use of renewable energy sources, but the US, Japan and Opec (which managed to persuade most of the rest of the developing countries) frustrated all attempts to establish one. Latin America wanted to quadruple the world's share of clean renewable energy -- such as solar and wind power -- by 2010. The EU settled on a more modest target which would have increased it by just one per cent over the decade and included controversial big dams and the wood and dung burning that kill more than two million people a year. Green groups accused the US of getting the world to toe the line of its domestic oil lobby, an accusation Washington rejected. Meanwhile, ratifications to the Kyoto protocol on climate change increased to 89. But this number is almost irrelevant since the treaty will not come into force until countries emitting 55 per cent of the world's carbon dioxide ratify, and there is still some way to go to that. The United States pulled out of Kyoto last year. The agreed summit text says nations that have ratified Kyoto "strongly urge" the other states to ratify it in "a timely manner".
Will it make a difference?
It will not do much good, and could make things worse. But some developing countries announced that they would press ahead with renewable energy anyway.
WATER AND SANITATIONThe agreement
Agreement was reached on a specific target to halve the estimated 2.4 billion people presently living without basic sanitation facilities by the year 2015.
How it was reached
The main opposition to this commitment came, once again, from the United States. Washington long opposed the goal, mainly because it has a longstanding aversion towards setting targets in principle. "It is no secret that targets for targets sake have never been a priority," said the US Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, John Turner.
But, as the week went on, the United States became more and more isolated, with allies on other contentious issues -- like the Opec countries, Canada, Japan and even the big business lobby -- calling for the target to be agreed. In the end it had no choice but to give in. Standing alone against providing adequate sanitation for people was just too much even for George Bush's administration to take.
The deal, reached in the early hours of yesterday morning, was welcomed by many development charities as marking an important step towards preventing more than two million deaths a year from diseases caused by people drinking dirty water. It completes plans laid out in the United Nations' 2000 Millennium Declaration to halve, by 2015, the number of people -- more than a billion -- who are unable to reach, or afford, safe drinking water.
Reaching agreement on this target was the minimum condition for the summit being able to claim that it had made any progress at all. Failure to agree it would have been a clear signal that the leaders -- for all their rhetoric, did not care about the health of poor children. It would have reduced the conference to a fiasco.
Will it make a difference?
Yes, if nations act now to implement what they have promised to do. It could drastically cut the number of people, mainly children , who die because they drink polluted water.
To establish a solidarity fund to wipe out poverty, "the greatest global challenge facing the world today". But contributions to the fund are voluntary.
How it was reached
The over-arching aim of the Johannesburg Earth Summit was to bridge the income gap between the world's richest and poorest, while ensuring the environment is not harmed in the process. But the sprawling agenda and divergent interests meant there were compromises aplenty in the summit agreement, some of which were attacked by civic and environmental groups as significant steps backward from previous commitments.
Promises and pledges came from a number of different world leaders:The French President, Jacques Chirac, called for an international solidarity tax to fight world poverty, telling the summit that current levels of development aid were inadequate. The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, announced that Italy was prepared to cancel 4bn (£2.5bn) in debt to poor countries. Germany offered 500m (£318m) over five years for renewable energy projects. Japan promised $30m (£19m) in emergency food aid for children facing famine in southern Africa.
The income gap between the richest nations and the poorest, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, has widened enormously over the last few decades. Per capita income in many countries is now lower than it was 20 years ago.
The number of people living on less than $1 a day declined slightly in the Nineties, to 1.2 billion from 1.3 billion largely because of progress in India and China. But in the richest couple of dozen countries, average income per head is more than $60 a day while Americans have nearly $100 a day.
Will it make a difference?
Not a lot. The real goals -- to halve dire poverty by 2015 were decided by the Millennium Summit two years ago. The test will be whether countries meet them.
AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIESThe agreement
To end the subsidies that encourage the plundering of Third World fisheries by the West and restore fish stocks by 2015 at the latest, recognising oceans are essential to the ecosystem and a critical source of food, especially in poor countries.
How it was reached
The first significant deal of the summit. All 190 countries agreed to restore all the world's fisheries to commercial health by 2015. The deal, reached on the second day of negotiations, means all countries will be responsible for reversing declines in fish stocks or maintaining them at a healthy level and ensuring the level of catches is sufficiently low that the fish can be taken indefinitely. But environmentalists said the deal, aimed at replenishing fishing stocks to commercial health by 2015, was a classic example of "too little to late". Fish stocks worldwide are in crisis with more than 70 per cent of commercially important stocks either over-exploited, depleted, or close to the maximum sustainable level of exploitation. Consumption of fish has increased by 240 per cent since 1960
Will it make a difference?
It could do. But the wording of the agreement is not particularly strong, and many fishing nations have so far strongly resisted tough controls.
To make a significant cut to the rate at which rare animals and plants are becoming extinct, by 2010.
How it was reached
Environmentalists expressed dismay at the wording, which is less strong than an equivalent resolution agreed at another international conference as recently as April. The new non-binding proposal is aimed at curbing the destruction of habitats such as rain forests, wetlands and coral reefs, which is driving animal and plant species to extinction. Nobody knows, even within millions, how many species there are on earth, but it seems that human activities are precipitating the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. Great holes could be torn in the web of life, with incalculable consequences. The target was set despite resistance from the US and the G77 group of developing countries, but remains weak and largely meaningless. The Worldwide Fund for Nature said: "The Plan of Implementation will not provide significant movement forwards ... In some cases it actually constitutes a step backwards."
Will it make a difference?
Precious little in itself. There is nothing here but a vague and weak aspiration -- and no concrete measures to make sure that the extinctions are actually slowed.
A World Trade Organisation accord on patents should not prevent poor countries providing medicines for all -- a key issue because they often cannot afford Aids drugs.
How it was reached
A disagreement on health is still delaying delegates from finally signing off on the plan, and will be brought up again today.
Women's reproductive rights became a sticking point at the summit. The problems were over a paragraph calling for better health services "consistent with national laws and cultural and religious values".
Some countries feared the wording could endorse the practice of genital mutilation, common in parts of the Horn of Africa. And the United States questioned a reference to human or women's rights, on the ground that it might tacitly endorse abortion, a subject that is still proving to be highly controversial in many parts of the US.
The trouble is that the UN recorded the paragraph as agreed in preliminary negotiations -- even though it was not.
Will it make a difference?
This is a hugely sensitive and potentially explosive issue. We do not know how the differences will be settled, but it is very dangerous to alter international formulas painstakingly put together at previous conferences.
Boosts trade but avoids laying down that World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules override global environmental treaties. Seen as victory for environmental groups who feared deals such as the Kyoto protocol, and a treaty allowing countries to stop GM imports could be undermined.
How it was reached
Until late on Sunday it looked as if the WTO would be given powers over the environmental treaties. Only Norway and Switzerland were holding out. Then the chief Ethiopian negotiator -- Tewolde Egziabher -- made a speech that dramatically changed opinion, bringing other developing countries and the EU out against the plan and isolating the US. The final text saying nations will "continue to enhance the mutual supportiveness of trade, environment and development" was revised to omit the clause "while ensuring WTO consistency". It veers little from that agreed at a WTO meeting in Doha, Qatar. It repeats commitments to negotiations with a view to phasing out agriculture and other trade-distorting subsidies.
Will it make a difference?
Giving the WTO supremacy would have made a huge and very damaging difference. The change restores an uneasy status quo.
Sept 3 02
Farmers' subsidies and obligationsFrom Mr Rodney Gray
Sir, Brian Wilson, the Energy Minister, says that the most sensible option for British Energy is that it should be able to get the price for its product that allows it to operate in a profitable way (report, August 26).
Is there any chance of him being reshuffled to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to take charge of milk production?
Yours sincerely, RODNEY GRAY,
Homefield House, Horndean, Berwick-upon-Tweed TD15 1XJ. August 26.
Sept 3 02
Plans to promote GM crops defeatedBy Geoffrey Lean in Johannesburg
American plans to force genetically modified crops and food on to Third World countries were unexpectedly frustrated at the Earth Summit last night. After an impassioned plea from Ethiopia, ministers rejected clauses in the summit's plan of action which would have given the World Trade Organisation (WTO) powers over international treaties on the environment.
One effect of this would have been to give the WTO the power to override the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, giving developing countries the right to refuse to take GM imports. The WTO regards free trade as its top priority. The breakthrough -- which rocked the American delegation, which has been blocking progress on most issues at the summit -- took place as negotiators worked through the night to resolve the outstanding disagreements on the plan.
For most of the day the proposal had seemed fated to go through. Beside opening the door to GM, it would have placed at risk international treaties controlling the trade in toxic waste, chemicals that destroy the ozone layer, and the pollution that causes global warming.
Originally, the only resistance to the proposals came from Norway and Switzerland but after the Ethiopian delegation made its intervention the rest of the Third World swung against it, followed by the European Union which had originally been pushed into adopting it by EC officials. The US was left isolated.
"I have never seen so many environmental ministers hugging each other as when the proposal went down,'' said one British negotiator early this morning.
Sept 2 02 posted Sep 3
GM pressure on RhodriStevI Dube, FRIENDS of the Earth Cymru urged Rhodri Morgan to demand a three-year freeze on growing genetically modified crops in the UK after a weekend announcement at the Earth Summit of a World Bank-funded initiative to review the use of GM foods and farming.
The Western Mail
The review, which aims to listen to all sides of the argument about the impacts of genetically modified organisms and other agricultural science is due to meet in Dublin in November and will run for a period of three years.
FoE Cymru has campaigned since 1999 for a GM Free Welsh environment and the group's head of campaigns, Julian Rosser, said they welcomed any initiative that recognised the need for thorough scientific research on the potential environmental and health impact of GM crops. Although there are no GM crops in Wales the group is concerned that widespread commercial planting of GM crops could begin in 2003 or 2004 - before all health and environ-mental questions have been answered.
"There are particular fears that pressure is mounting on the Welsh Assembly to approve commercialisation before the end of this year," said Mr Rosser.
"The announcement of this review shows that there are still many questions to be answered about the environmental and health impacts of GM crops."
Sept 2 02
Farmers intend to go publicGraham Hiscott,
The Western Mail
FARMERS intend to speak directly with the public about the state of their industry, it emerged yesterday.
A series of events is planned over the next month to demonstrate to people how farming impacts on their lives.
The campaign, called Farming Counts, has been organised by the National Farmers' Union and starts on September 9.
The events will take place in the run-up to the "Liberty and Livelihood" march, due to take in London on September 22, to highlight the various concerns of rural communities.
Ben Gill, president of the NFU, said, "We want to tell people the importance of farming and what they will lose if it continues to shrink at its current rate.
"This is not a whinge. At a time when people have never been more disconnected from the countryside, it is understandable that they don't realise the impact farmers and growers have on their everyday lives."
The event on September 9 will be followed by six more, each focusing on different sectors in farming, ranging from dairy and poultry to beef and arable.
Sept 2 02
'GIVE ASH MOOR TO COUNTY FOR NOTHING'JAMIE MCGINNES
North Devon Journal
Campaigners last night called on the Government to give a restored Ash Moor burial site back to the community free of charge.
The appeal follows an assurance from Animal Health Minister Elliot Morley yesterday that the multi-million pound burial pit at Meeth, near Petrockstowe, in North Devon, will be returned to its natural state and then sold for £350,000.
Mr Morley said that Devon County Council will have first option to buy the land, which would then be restored at the Government's expense for use as a nature reserve.
But objectors to the Ash Moor burial pit say that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (Defra) should not only give the site to the community, but bring to account those responsible for its construction.
Ron Dawson, chairman of Stamp, (Stop the Ash Moor Pit) said: "It would be only fair that this land be gifted to the county after all the misery caused by Defra.
"To suggest the community should pay an inflated price of £350,000 is ridiculous. The other concern for me is the fact that we still have to ensure the people responsible for the site are brought to book."
The pit was dug, without planning permission or an environmental impact assessment, to take the carcasses of 500,000 animals killed during last year's foot and mouth outbreak, but it was never used.
John Burnett, Lib-Dem MP for Torridge and West Devon, said: "The communities near the site have, for nearly two years, been living with the Sword of Damocles over their heads and that has now been removed forever.
"The site should never have been used. It has been a vast waste of public money."
Construction of the Ash Moor pit cost more than £6 million, with operational costs adding a further £20,000 a week to the bill ever since.
But despite the millions of pounds spent on the facility, Mr Morley yesterday stressed the need to maximise the market value of the site.
"We have decided to reinstate and sell the site, with the condition of giving Devon County Council a first option to purchase," he added. "If the county council decides not to take up our offer, the land will still be restored, but it will be sold on the open market."
Mr Morley yesterday insisted that the pit would never be used as part of any future contingency action. Restoration work, including the removal of pumps, lights and linings, will begin this autumn.
Arscott Farm, a mass pyre site near Holsworthy, will be restored to meadowland. That is also the intention at Westlake Farm at Oakford, near Tiverton, subject to an agreement being reached between Defra and the landowner.
The farm was prepared as a holding site for carcasses and pyre material, but was never used.
Sept 1 02
FINNIE CALLS CBI CHIEF AN 'ENGLISH PRAT' SCOTTISHagriculture minister Ross Finnie was fighting for his political life last night after describing Britain's most senior business leader as "an English prat".
Scotland on Sunday
Sept 1 02
Finnie under pressure as Scots GM trials go aheadBy Douglas Fraser, Political Editor
Whitehall yesterday bounced the Scottish Executive into accepting highly controversial GM crop trials despite Ross Finnie, the environment and rural affairs minister, stating that he had yet to decide whether to approve the third wave of trials. Finnie was expected to make a statement on whether or not to go ahead with the trials 'within the next few days' but a statement from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Whitehall yesterday approved the new trials, saying the seeds' purity had been tested and that '16 sites in England and a further two in Scotland will be sown with winter oil seed rape genetically modified to be tolerant to the herbicide glufosinate ammonium'.
Even before the announcement Finnie was under severe pressure as he had to act on advice from the same committee of scientific advisers that convinced Whitehall, drawing on tests by the private company developing the seeds, Aventis Cropscience, and by the UK government's central science laboratory.
The announcement leaves him exposed as opposition from fellow Liberal Democrats, whose conference voted to ban continuing GM field trials, had already put him under political pressure.
He has previously justified the trials on the basis that he is not legally able to go against scientific advice.
Sept 2 02
Senior vets voice alarm at bullying allegationsBy Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent (Filed: 31/08/2002)
Sixteen former presidents of the British Veterinary Association have voiced concern about trouble at the top of the organisation after allegations of harassment, staff intimidation, bullying and possible financial mismanagement at its London headquarters. In a letter in the Veterinary Record, the BVA's official publication, the past presidents, whose tenures date from the Fifties to the Nineties, say a lack of transparency over the findings of two independent inquiries into the allegations is tearing the profession apart and damaging its reputation.
One former president said yesterday that the crisis at the BVA's headquarters in Marylebone, London, was "turning us into a laughing stock in the eyes of the Government and the public".
Another past president of the association and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, now retired from practice, said the BVA was in "fucking chaos". He added: "This is creating a loss of public confidence in the BVA and the profession, which is even worse."
The turmoil comes as outsiders are questioning the association's role, particularly after foot and mouth. While members were under severe pressure at the height of the outbreak, their representative body was accused of failing to take a decisive stand on key issues such as vaccination.
Members have been frustrated by the association's failure to sort out conflicting advice on the 20-day standstill rule imposed on livestock farmers after foot and mouth.
After concerns over staff turnover at the headquarters, the BVA Council's Internal Audit Group set up an internal investigation, which prompted an independent inquiry last year at £1,000 a day. The association's executive refused to disclose the contents of the internal report to its council, even in secret. It cited legal advice that it said could lead to the association being brought before an industrial tribunal.
The independent report detailed concerns about the management style of James Baird, the association's chief executive, and Ailsa Edwards, the assistant chief executive.
The Report to the Executive Committee of the British Veterinary Association regarding concerns held by current and past staff regarding their employment lists a catalogue of problems, including "low morale and an atmosphere of distrust, secrecy and fear".
Andrew Scott, president of the association, said lawyers had advised him not to comment on the report's contents.
The independent report was "being actioned". He said: "In view of the necessity for the process to be conducted fairly I am not in the position to say any more."
Mr Baird was unavailable and Mrs Edwards declined to comment.
Aug 31 02
EU in secret talks to end farms aid deadlockBy Charles Clover and Tim Butcher in Johannesburg
The European Union was last night considering scrapping some of its farm subsidies sooner than it had intended in a desperate attempt to break the deadlock at the Earth Summit.
EU ministers were involved in secret talks on a plan for bringing forward the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy as a way of persuading developing countries and America to accept tough targets for tackling poverty and environmental degradation and increasing the use of renewable energy.
As South African police braced themselves for a series of rallies and protest marches in Johannesburg today, which could easily degenerate into violence, ministers took over at the talks for the first time in an attempt to resolve the stickiest issues before Tony Blair and other world leaders arrive on Monday.
The EU was under intense pressure to devise new concessions to persuade America and the G77 group of more than 100 developing countries to sign up to targets on a wide range of issues such as providing sanitation for the poor and increasing the proportion of energy generated from renewable sources.
A source close to the British delegation said EU ministers were trying to devise concessions "on the hoof" and added: "That is our speciality." The same source confirmed that further reforms of EU agriculture subsidies were under discussion.
Sources close to other EU delegations said further reform of the CAP or a huge increase in EU foreign aid were the only things the EU could devise to place pressure on America and the G77 to agree to sign up to tough targets.
Sources close to the British delegation said any further reform of EU agriculture policy concessions could not go beyond the wording of the trade agreement reached last November in Doha.
This, however, gives plenty of scope, calling as it does for "reductions, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies; and substantial reductions in trade distorting domestic support."
New concessions might include bringing forward the next round of CAP reforms before the current plan, that they should take place in 2006. This would be contested by France and would have to be agreed by President Jacques Chirac next week.
But it is possible, because France was outvoted on agriculture reform for the first time within the EU council of ministers in Doha, where in the words of one observer, "there was a strong smell of burnt croissants".
The CAP is loathed equally by the developing world and the so-called free trade countries, including America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, for stacking the odds in favour of EU farmers in world markets and keeping out goods produced more cheaply in the developing world. There is considerable scope for reform within the £36 billion CAP budget.
A source close to the Irish delegation described it as "enough to fly every cow in Europe round the world first class." Paul Jefferiss of Birdlife International, who was in the British delegation at preparatory talks in Bali, said: "The EU needs to create some bargaining chips for itself.
"It needs a political gesture of high magnitude." Margaret Beckett, Environment Secretary, said she was prepared to go without sleep all weekend to finalise an agreement before Tony Blair and other leaders arrive on Monday.
"My view is, let's get on with it. We are ready to work day and night to resolve issues," she said.
Responding to concern that America has been seeking to go back on undertakings made in the Rio Declaration 10 years ago and that the talks are "further back than they were at the beginning of the week" she added: "Of course we must ultimately have an agreement but we cannot settle for an agreement at any price."
Aug 31 02
Quota buy-up sparks aid fearsBy Isabel Davies
PLANS to reduce sheep numbers in some of England's most picturesque landscapes could see farmers risking future support payments. A ground-breaking initiative will pay farmers in upland areas to reduce their sheep stocking levels for five years. Ministers believe the Sheep Quota Purchase Scheme will improve the sustainability of farming by reducing overgrazing in the hills.
But the National Farmers' Union believes farmers who sign up to the scheme may be jeopardising other subsidies.
NFU livestock committee chairman Les Armstong said farmers should remember Brussels is considering paying a single annual aid cheque. The money would based on the amount of support received in an as-yet-unspecified reference year.
"If we are moving to one farm payment, we don't know what the reference year is going to be," said Mr Armstrong. "At a time when there are such poor returns, all of us are trying to reshape our businesses. But there are too many unknowns out there."
Consultants agreed with Mr Armstrong.
Producers could be locking themselves into a future pattern of production which could be detrimental, warned Richard King of Andersons. It might suit someone to change their system now but others could be shooting themselves in the foot, he added.
John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said farmers must consider the full business implications of reducing stocking rates.
The scheme has a total fund of just £2m. If farmers tender to join the initative in return for £100/ewe it will remove only 20,000 animals from England's national flock of 15.3m sheep.
Aug 30 02
World hunger boils down to access-authorBy Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 29 (Reuters) - American food guru and author Frances Moore Lappe has one message on world hunger for the U.N. Earth Summit: it's all about access.
Access by farmers to credit and land, that is.
"The problem with world hunger is access, it's not production or supply. There's more than enough food to go around," said Lappe, author of the 1971 best-seller "Diet for a Small Planet."
"People talk about this hunger crisis all the time but it's not rocket science. Small farmers need to be paid a fair price for their products and the poor need access to credit and land," she told Reuters on Thursday on the sidelines of the summit.
Hunger is a major theme at the 10-day World Summit on Sustainable Development which began on Monday. It is seeking to hammer out a global action plan to improve the environment while finding ways to implement the U.N.'s Millennium Development goals, which include a pledge to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015. Lappe was one of the first activists to sound an alarm in the 1970s about what some greens say are the inefficiencies of the livestock industry, accusing it of gobbling calories that could fill the bellies of the poor.
"When I wrote 'Diet for a Small Planet' in 1971, a third of all grain was used to feed livestock. Now it's closer to half," she said.
"In the U.S. system, it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of steak. To produce the same pound of steak takes between 2,000 and 12,000 gallons of water."
She said one of the most damaging things about the U.S. farming system was that it was being held up as a model. "The U.S. farming system is held up as a model for others to follow but it is the most inefficient in the world and the subsidies all go to the biggest farmers. Small farmers are going out of business all the time," she said.
As an example of an alternative to "market fundamentalism", Lappe points to the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, which she says is the only city in the capitalist world to make food security a right of citizenship. "They decided that even if the market excluded the poor from food security, they were still citizens and that food was a human right," she said.
She said the government rents spots at almost no cost on city-owned ground to entrepreneurs to set up stalls.
For this advantage, they have to sell their products at low prices set by the city, but the price is fair and costs are kept down by linking sellers directly to local producers, cutting out the middlemen.
"This and other alternative models are not 'anti-market'," Lappe said. "But the market system we have inevitably concentrates wealth and when that is done, who is going to buy the goods? It destroys the principles on which it is based," she said.
Lappe also said land reform was crucial, arguing it saves governments in the long run because it prevents a tide of displaced rural dwellers from flocking to the shanty-towns of the developing world, adding to crime and other social problems.
"Keeping people tied to the land is not dooming them to a life of poverty and subsistence farming, if they are given land and access to capital. Then rural communities can begin building schools and accumulating wealth," she said.
Aug 30 02
Farmers protest over milk priceFarmers say they are losing money on every litre
Scotland's dairy farmers are planning to stage protests against the "low prices" being offered by supermarkets for milk supplies. The National Farners' Union Scotland (NFUS) said it costs dairy farmers on average 4p more to produce a litre of milk than they are being paid by the supermarkets.
The union said demonstrations will be held outside distribution centres next month, unless the supermarkets move to give farmers a fairer deal. The NFUS said the average cost of producing a litre of milk is 19p, yet their members receive 15p while processors and the large multiples take most of the 45p to 50p retail price.
Farming businesses are on the line with families only looking for a living. We have no option but to fight for their future
After unsuccessful negotiations with the supermarkets, the NFUS said that direct action was the only option.
NFUS president Jim Walker said: "Supermarkets are making billions of pounds a year in profit. "We have had regular dialogue with senior executives and directors from all the multiples who are constantly telling us how much they support British agriculture. "Yet their buyers on the ground end up squeezing the supply chain so hard that there is nothing left for the farmer after the supermarkets and processors get their margins."
Scotland's 2,000 dairy farmers said they are also struggling against increased costs this year due to poor quality silage as a result of bad weather.
Mr Walker, who came to prominence in large part due to his role in demonstrations against livestock imports at Stranraer, also signalled the union's intention to demonstrate at Scottish ports to highlight the impact of cheap East European grain on prices for home-grown cereal.
The NFUS said the price farmers receive for milk is at its lowest in real terms for 16 years.
A survey of 16 European milk buyers, carried out by the Dutch milk board, identified Scotland's largest milk buyer as paying farmers the least for the product. And the firm's price for June this year was almost 31% lower than that set in June 2001 - compared to an average drop in price of 6% across the EU.
Mr Walker said: "If we don't get a clear signal that farm gate milk prices will rise then Thursday, 19 September will see the start of a series of demonstrations in Scotland.
"Farming businesses are on the line with families only looking for a living. We have no option but to fight for their future." Retailer Tesco said it recognised the pressures British dairy producers were under, but insisted direct action would not help the plight of farmers. A spokesman said: "We recognise that farmers are under a lot of pressure at the moment due to low market prices and the long term impact of disease, and we are committed to working with the industry."
Aug 29 02
Summit reaches deal to renew fish stocksBy OLIVER MOORE
Globe and Mail
In the first notable success at the Earth Summit in South Africa, delegates said overnight that they had reached an agreement to restore depleted fisheries worldwide by 2015.
The deal calls for temporary fishing bans where necessary. Governments are also to consider stopping all fishing in vulnerable breeding grounds.
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More than 70 per cent of the world's fishery is overexploited, the United Nations worries, and that poses a disproportional danger to the Third World. The fishing agreement calls on all nations to "consider the needs" of developing countries when allocating fish quotas.
United Nations officials say that the pace of negotiations in Johannesburg is accelerating. They point out that delegates have agreed on the final wording of 40 paragraphs in the so-called "Plan of Implementation" since discussions began. Talks are expected to speed up as crunch-time approaches: when upward for 100 national leaders arrive in the next few days to sign the final draft of the agreement.
Like the portions of it that deal with fishing, the plan signed off at this summit will not be legally binding. But optimists hope that it will provide moral persuasion and help keep government leaders on track when they return home.
As many as 65,000 participants are expected to visit Johannesburg before the 10-day summit has wrapped up. Upward of 100 national leaders are expected to attend the closing days, with U.S. President George W. Bush is notable by his absence. He has said that he will not attend and has designated Secretary of State Colin Powell as his representative, a move criticized by many as indicative of the White House's overriding view of the environment. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien will arrive in South Africa on Sunday after a two-day stopover in Switzerland.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development, running through to Sept. 5, hopes to work toward real goals and meaningful targets that will improve people's lives while conserving natural resources.
The fishing agreement commits all nations to restoring their depleted fisheries to sustainable levels within 13 years. Negotiators conceded that, in some areas, this could require sharply reduced catches, temporary fishing bans and even a moratorium on commercial fishing in breeding grounds. This specificity makes the fishing agreement a unique product at a summit where poorer nations complain bitterly that the West, particularly the United States, refuses to attach any meaningful targets to development goals. Still, some environmentalists worry that pirate trawlers will be able simply to continue their extra-legal fishing practices.
"It's pleasing that they have reached agreement on oceans," Sian Pullen of the World Wildlife Fund told Reuters. But she added: "It does recognize the need for enforcement, but it doesn't say how it's going to be done. It's a major issue and not one that's been adequately addressed."
Talks on Wednesday are focusing on accessible energy sources and ways of providing clean water and sanitation to the billions who live without them.
Aug 29 02
WHY WE ALL FEEL SO BETRAYED...MARK DANIEL
Western Morning News
09:00 - 28 August 2002
Politicians beware - there is a growing backlash from a group of influential voters who Are being compared to Victor MeldrewSO WE are Meldrews. We had wondered what name would fit us who increasingly feel alienated from the young, glib, insincere, graceless, tasteless, cultureless, careless, selfish, incompetent, smug, unadventurous, ill-educated, inarticulate, regulation obeying and imposing urban brethren, ranging from the callow young, devoid of social skills or sense of history, to their older, soulless seniors, who constitute 90 per cent of our grant-sucking consultants and civil servants, and of our apparently infinite rulers.
What is the difference between them and us? Are they rebellious, visionary, libertarian and naively idealistic as the young so often are? Not a bit of it. We were so, and most of us remain so if, we hope, somewhat less naive than them. We expect new ideas and new visions from the young.
We expect anti-establishment doctrines and raucous music. We see none. Even today's music is a pale, commercially-driven imitation or straight copy of the music which once outraged our parents. Students no longer demonstrate on behalf of anyone except students. Even sexual liberation, which we won with passion and celebrated with enthusiasm, is now enforced by law, commonplace and soullessly, shoddily, thoughtlessly indulged.
We resent the grinding working hours and relentless pressure under which we are compelled to live in order to earn a modest living.
We resent the conspicuous and consistent waste of money by public and publically funded bodies and the wealth and power of those who slavishly enforce regulations to the benefit of no-one but bureaucrats.
We resent the mediocracy and its stranglehold on money which could be spent on health, heritage - anything but government.
Mrs Blair may be the only person in this country who actually voted for Mr Blair at the last election, but then, for whom else were we to vote?
New Labour has all but renounced democratic process in favour of regulation from an unelected Brussels Commission and a patently undemocratic so-called Parliament.
So total is the assumption of power of the political classes that Tony Blair can even consider sending our troops into Iraq without so much as consultation with a once representative Parliament.
Meanwhile, the health and transport systems have foundered despite New Labour's electoral promises. Farming and fishing have been comprehensively betrayed. The economy, though said to be booming, was totally stagnant. The only boom industry was government.
But what alternative does Mr Duncan-Smith or Mr Kennedy offer? Does either pledge a return to democracy? Does either promise to reduce the power of politicians and political agencies in favour of the British people? Does either intend to pay more than lip-service to the notion of an autonomous Britain, ruled once more by its own people?
Does either have cogent or practical plans for the reform of public services or the enforcement of law and order? Of course not, because the only cogent and practical plans entail the dismissal of officials and consultants and the return of power over hospitals to doctors and nurses, over the streets to the police, over schools to teachers, the only effective monitoring of their performance that of the consumer. I was at school during the Sixties, at university in the seventies. Labour then represented the worker, the Tories the status quo.
We saw, and participated in, women's liberation and sexual liberation. We oversaw the renunciation of racial prejudice and the decline of prejudice founded upon sexual orientation. Because, however, we had grown up with the prejudices of our parents, we retained a sense of humour and balance about both poison and antidote. The notion that anyone might legislate to ban prejudice would have disgusted and dismayed us.
We were outspoken, unafraid and libertarian. Just as we listened to, and admired, Sinatra as we worshipped Graham Nash and Stephen Stills, so we retained respect for faith and even prejudice which outwardly we derided, because libertarianism is a general, not a specific principle, like courtesy, which it embraces.
Politics, no less than the source of power, have become alien, the interests of all-powerful bureaucrats and recipients of state generosity wholly distinct from our own. If we are Meldrews, it is not because we are grumpy old men and women, but because we have been lied to, traduced and cheated over decades. Libertarians take ill to the assumption of power by their inferiors. They merely assumed it. We won it.
And we still have the best music...
Aug 28 02
Sale of foreign beef good for shoppers'A MEAT packing business in Northampton is selling cheap Brazilian beef to a leading UK supermarket after suffering big losses during the foot and mouth crisis.
Asda bosses have announced they are offering refunds to shoppers who felt they may have been misled by labelling which did not reveal the origin of the meat.
The only indication of the source of the beef steak was the name on the label, Anglo Beef Processing. ABP, which is based in Northampton Road, Blisworth, yesterday stressed it had done nothing illegal. If foreign meat is processed, its origin does not have to be identified.
Critics said the labelling misled customers into thinking they were supporting struggling British farmers. But ABP spokesman Alistair McDougal, said: "The suggestion that this is betraying British farmers is ridiculous.....
Aug 28 02
World meat demand to rise, animal disease fears - FAOROME - Global meat consumption is forecast to grow by two percent annually until the end of 2015 as the population and incomes rise and more people move to cities, the United Nations food body said.
But the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned that increased trade and transport links raised risks of the spread of animal diseases across borders.
...DEMAND FOR WHITE MEAT
FAO said recent animal disease outbreaks in major meat exporting countries, such as mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), had accelerated a shift in consumption away from red meat to poultry.
FAO forecasts a much sharper increase in demand for white meat than red meat.
Animal disease outbreaks, such as Britain's BSE crisis of 1996/97 and the Netherlands' classical swine fever epidemic of 1997/98, had diverted trade, shifting market shares between exporters of the same product, the FAO document said.
According to FAO, the cost of BSE in Britain in 1996/97 amounted to $3.8 billion and the cost of classical swine fever in the Netherlands in 1997/98 was $2.3 billion.
In Britain, the cost of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) last year totalled $9.2 billion, compared to $6.6 billion in Taiwan in 1997.
In addition, there are hidden costs to animal disease epidemics. In total, 4.03 million, 11.0 million and 6.24 million animals were slaughtered in Taiwan, the Netherlands and Britain respectively.
"The disposal of slaughtered carcasses has huge environmental implications; during the first six weeks of the UK FMD outbreak, the burning of carcasses released dioxins into the atmosphere amounting to some 18 percent of the UK's annual emissions," FAO said.
"Furthermore, the mass slaughter of animals resulted in the loss of bio-diversity of native livestock populations, with some breeds left critica lly endangered following the UK FMD outbreak."
Aug 28 02
Farmers threaten to blockade supermarketsMILITANT farmers are threatening to blockade food distribution centres across the country this week in protest at cheap foreign imports. Farmers For Action, which called a national dairy boycott last Friday, now wants to take action against supermarkets, which it accuses of undercutting British farmers. The group has already blockaded large dairies, particularly Robert Wiseman and Dairy Crest, but this is the first threat to take widespread direct action against the supermarkets.
Aug 26 02
Haggis Under ThreatA food watchdog has sparked outrage by wanting to ban the traditional way of making the famous Scottish dish haggis.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says using sheep intestines risks spreading BSE. The organisation said fears had grown because sheep had consumed the same feed as that which was responsible for giving cattle BSE.
The FSA has asked the European Commission to ban the use of sheep intestines, which are only used to make larger portions of the Scottish delicacy.
A spokesman for the Scottish National Party said: "This is quite simply completely mad. "Haggis is known the world over as a symbol of Scotland and is a dish we are proud of. "To ban the use of sheep intestines, which are still a common ingredient, would be ludicrous."
Traditional haggis is usually made from sheep's intestines mixed with oatmeal, spices, salt and pepper, served with neeps and tatties and doused in whisky. An FSA spokesman said the risk posed by eating the animal's intestines was purely "theoretical".
He said: "Experts have revealed that it is possible for sheep to be infected with BSE, but there is no proof that this has actually happened.
"Theoretically they could have BSE, and their intestines is the place where the BSE would develop, for this reason we would advise people not to eat haggis which includes the intestines."
Aug 26 02
Farm's revival goes on filmA VIDEO about farming diversification in the wake of foot and mouth was being filmed in the Ribble Valley this week. Bowland Outdoor Reared Pork in Tatham is one of several farm business throughout the North West that will feature in the video about successful projects. The video has been funded and created by the Bowland Initiative to show the agriculture industry how successful diversification can be. It will be distributed throughout the North West to rural development agencies, farmers' groups and interested individuals.
Lancashire Evening Telegraph
Tony Holland, owner of Bowland Outdoor Reared Pork, diversified from pig-breeding into the manufacture of bacon, sausages and burgers. He keeps 250 pigs on four acres at Craggs Farm, Lowgill, near Tatham, and said the move had helped him raise the value of each animal from £70 to £350.
He said: "The money I was making from breeding livestock didn't even cover our feed bill, so we converted a redundant building into a cold room to manufacture our own products.
"I have been in farming for 10 years and, although none of our animals contracted foot and mouth, we were severely affected by restrictions.
"We have gone from strength to strength since diversifying and it has been well worth the effort.
"Our produce is top-quality and highly sought after at farmers' markets throughout the region. "We are very pleased to be involved in this video and hope it can be of some use to other businesses."
Project coordinator Janet Robinson said: "Tony Holland has worked extremely hard to get where he is now. "He is always looking for new opportunities to develop his business and Bowland Outdoor Reared Pork is now very successful, selling direct to the public at various farmers' markets and consumer shows in the North West."
The film also features Lancaster Farmers' Market and several other businesses in the region that have successfully diversified.
Further details about the video are available from Janet Robinson at the Bowland Initiative on 01200 426433.
Aug 25 02
MESSAGE FROM DEADLY CATTLE PLAGUE OF 1866AT A TIME when the district's farmers were gripped by an animal disease of deadly voracity, the editor of the Courant penned a memorable leading article.
He wrote: "It requires no great stretch of the imagination to fancy a political economist, or a student of veterinary science, in 100 years' time, poring over a file of musty, time-stained newspapers of the present day, in mute astonishment at the manifest inability of our veterinary faculty to grapple with the fatal malady..."
However, the story wasn't written at the time of last year's foot-and-mouth outbreak, or even the previous one in 1966. The article was published on January 31st, 1866, when Tynedale was given a brief taste of the deadly cattle plague rinderpest, which devastated much of the rest of the country.
The outbreak is the subject of a BBC Radio documentary, produced by Gordon Swindlehurst and Hexham's Neil Lewis entitled Bloody Bones.
Its lessons learned might just have helped us to fight foot-and-mouth last year. But isn't history irrelevant? asks Neil Lewis. Embers are extinguished, pits are capped concealing the bodies from view. Above ground there's stock in the fields, corn waving in the breeze. On the surface, normal life has returned to the Ladybird Book of the Countryside.
The studies are published; they've got away with it again. Four national inquiries; much evidence taken in closed session; key players not called; awkward questions not asked. For "they", read government. Why do they never learn from history?
Dr lain Anderson, in his foreword to "Foot-and-mouth 2001: Lessons to be Learned Inquiry", said: "We seem destined to repeat the mistakes of history. In the Northumberland Report of 1968, and back through the decades, similar conclusions to ours were drawn..."
On its later pages appears part of the defence for not learning from history. We are told it was different then.
No it wasn't. Perhaps the detail, but the broader issues in these matters are the same - decisions are dependent on expected political and commercial effects, there's incompetence, and unfounded claims before effective savage methods just have to be used. This is a true story: ...The 1866 rinderpest epidemic led to calls for a Minister for Agriculture, to the state veterinary service of today, and to the origins of what was to become MAFF. Bloody Bones is broadcast on BBC Radio Cumbria (95.6 FMI756AM) at 6pm on Monday, August 26th.
Aug 21 02
Over the Gate by Jeff Swift
This is the Lake District
Reasons to be cheerful.
I HAD a dream the other night.
In my dream Margaret Beckett had decided to go round the world with her caravan.
I said: "Are you really going or are you just trying to cheer us up?" "Oh yes I'm going; do you have any message?" To which I replied "Just one, don't hurry back."
Next to appear in my dream was Lord Witty who I understood had become a very skilful golfer and as a result was off to take part in golfing tournaments in various parts of the world.
He asked if I'd any message to which I answered "Good luck" and, pulling his leg, I said: "Don't come back till you've beaten Tiger Woods."
Then there was Elliot Morley and for him I dreamed that the Japanese had offered him a lot of money to advise them on their fisheries policy so that they did not make the same mistakes he'd made with our own fishing industry.
I couldn't give him a message as he'd already gone.
As I say, it is being so cheerful that keeps us going.
Everyone lives in hope sometimes.
Not that there was ever any doubt that the Government and its advisers ever understood the needs of farming and the countryside or indeed if they ever wanted to; if any proof were needed then the imposition of the 20-day rule in the aftermath of foot-and-mouth disease was proof in itself.
Anyone who understood how farming really works in the UK would have known instantly that not only would such a rule never work, because livestock farming could not function for long with it in place, but neither would it deliver the disease control that DEFRA vets and scientists promised.
These advisers are the same ones who were running the foot-and-mouth control measures and, as for as I can see, farmers have lost all confidence in them.
At last some, not a lot, but some common sense has been introduced into the draconian rule that will allow breeding stock to come onto a farm without triggering the 20-day standstill, providing they go into isolation and are inspected by a vet whose visit will be, of course, followed by the bill.
But at least it will be the vet of your choice.
I recently read a report that said Jim Scudamore, the Government chief vet, had admitted that he was warned in July 2000 of the rapid spread of Asian type foot-and-mouth.
If farmers had known the imminent danger, it is likely the disease would have been spotted well before February 19 and most of the pain could have been avoided.
One of Lanarkshire's top dairy farmers who knows his way around made it his business to inquire if any other country in the world where they had suffered foot-and-mouth disease had used a draconian measure like the 20-day rule.
He could discover none that had.
So why do we need it here? Well, of course, we don't but the chief vet and other government advisers say we do... and we've seen them in action before!
Aug 24 02
Farmers strike for higher pricesBy Chris Johnston
ABOUT one in five farmers went on strike yesterday in protest at falling prices and government handling of rural issues. David Handley, chairman of Farmers For Action, said that there had been nationwide support for the strike, in which farmers agreed not to sell their produce.
The effect was expected to be most evident in the dairy industry, where farmers have said that they would not allow milk collected yesterday to be taken for processing. The strike was not backed by the National Farmers' Union, which labelled it a "risky strategy that could backfire" if it led to more foreign produce being sold.
Mr Handley, a dairy farmer from Monmouthshire, agreed that the strike would have a limited impact, but said the pressure group was considering more action in future.
"We know we could starve the country within three days if we stopped milk production," he said.
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 horses and riders marched through the streets of Leicester yesterday to protest against a ban on hunting.
Aug 24 02
Striking farmers halt food to supermarketsBy Nigel Morris Political Correspondent 24 August 2002 Up to 70,000 farmers joined a 24-hour "strike" yesterday to protest over the condition of the rural economy, organisers claimed last night.
The Farmers For Action pressure group said supporters had refused to sell any produce, including milk, to supermarkets. Protest leaders presented a hamper of food, including beef and eggs, to Downing Street to highlight their claims that farming was in crisis. They demanded the resignation of Margaret Beckett as Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
David Handley, chairman of Farmers For Action, said: "We've had an excellent response to the call for action, we had reports back already from thousands of farmers up and down the country who are supporting the strike."
The National Farmers' Union retorted: "We think this is an extremely risky strategy that could seriously backfire. Such action could damage the relationship between individual farmers and their buyers, and lead to long-term financial losses for the farmer concerned."
Leading supermarkets said they did not expect any significant impact on food supplies, but Farmers For Action said there could be a shortage of milk in some areas for a few days after the action.
The group said it would escalate its action if the Government failed to implement reforms proposed by Sir Don Curry after his investigation into the future of food and farming. The Curry report, published in January, set out measures costing £500m aimed at reconnecting farmers with their markets and encouraging "greener" production methods.
Aug 24 02
Becoming Scottish could be the answerBECOMING Scottish could be one way for Cumbria to get around the onerous 20-day standstill according to Furness farmer Jim Webster. DEFRA angered farmers in the county by keeping the controversial livestock standstill in spite of the fact that almost a year has passed since the last confirmed case of foot-and-mouth in Britain.
This is the Lake District
Across the border in Scotland, however, the devolved government is running a different version of the standstill. Jim Webster, who farms at Rampside, near Ulverston, is chairman of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) in Cumbria.
He said: "If you farm anywhere near the Border you can watch your cattle rub noses with Scottish cattle for whom the 20-day standstill is entirely different. Scotland had it as well, and look how fast they have got over it and then have a look around Cumbria. "We cannot go on like this.
It is unthinkable that we sit back and watch our industry and many related industries be destroyed by bad regulation imposed by a body of somewhat less than proven competence.
"Fortunately, here in Cumbria, we have an option. A few miles north there is a country running a far more rational system.
Hence the CLA in Cumbria is now wondering whether to request that Cumbria move speedily to come under Scotland and we have SEERAD rather than DEFRA.
At least that way we have some hope for the future. "I am maybe taking the mickey a bit but it is with good reason," he said.
Aug 24 02
Oliver Walston: A rich harvest of lies, exaggeration and hypocrisyLike the little boy who cried wolf too often, farmers are paying the penalty for decades of scaremongering 24 August 2002 The farmers of Britain went on strike yesterday. The problem is that nobody seems to have noticed. A radical group called Farmers for Action, supported by the Green Party, persuaded some dairy farmers not to sell their milk for 24 hours. Their objective was to publicise the fact that British agriculture is on the edge of bankruptcy. Whilst their tactics may be bizarre, their anger and fear are very genuine.
Once upon a time many years ago, when summers were long, lazy and hot, and Dennis Compton scored three thousand runs in a season, everybody loved a farmer. We had, after all, dug mightily for victory and as a result had fed the nation. Nobody noticed -- or even cared -- that the brussels sprouts were soggy and the potatoes scabby. Meat was rationed, fruit was scarce and supermarkets were inconceivable. But -- or so the story goes -- we were all happy.
In those sunlit days the National Farmers' Union was the most powerful lobbying organisation in the UK. Such was its power that with each passing year guaranteed prices rose, and with them came a vast array of subsidies which paid farmers to grow more food, apply more fertiliser, grub up trees and rip out hedges. Not a protest was heard from the public or the politicians.
Decades passed. Whitehall withered and Brussels burgeoned. The Common Agricultural Policy served only to increase the size of the cornucopia which disgorged its goodies into the bank accounts of every farmer in the land. For nearly three decades, from the 1970s to the 1990s, British farmers enjoyed a prosperity of which their fathers and grandfathers could never have dreamt. The economics of the lunatic asylum reached their nadir (or apogee if you happened to be a farmer) in 1993, when the price of wheat rose sharply and -- glory of glories -- so did the subsidy from Brussels paid to compensate farmers for a predicted fall in price!
Throughout this period it might be supposed that the farmers of Britain would at least have been happy, satisfied and silent. We had, after all, won a lottery for which we had not even bought a ticket. But old habits die hard. Indeed when it comes to the NFU, old habits grow ever stronger. Which is why the loudest noise in the British countryside was the sound of the NFU telling anyone who would listen that the farmers of Britain were suffering terribly. The solution was the same as ever: higher prices and more subsidies.
The glory days of British agriculture are a distant memory. For a decade the industry has staggered from crisis to crisis while the subsidies have shrunk like an icicle in spring. Today the Government yawns as farming totters on the edge of meltdown. The two pillars of British agriculture, cereals and milk, are in crisis. Dairy farmers now receive 16p for a litre of milk, down from a high of 25p. Arable farmers are even worse off. Wheat this harvest is worth £54 a tonne, down from £110 seven years ago.
It is ironic -- even poignant -- that, when a recent report suggested that 30 per cent of organic farmers are making a loss, the media was surprised and sympathetic. Yet at least 90 per cent of conventional arable farmers are today making a loss and nobody cares. Why?
The reason is as simple as it is sad. Nobody believes the NFU, let alone the newer groups such as Farmers for Action (which does not have NFU sanction), any longer. Like the little boy who cried wolf once too often, British farmers are paying the penalty for decades of scaremongering and exaggeration. Had farmers' leaders at least managed to button their lips while the subsidy waterfall was in spate, there is a chance that today they might be believed. But inside every farmer -- from the Lincolnshire tycoon in his Bentley to the Caithness crofter on his Fordson -- is a peasant trying to stay in. Among the fundamental characteristics of peasants are congenital pessimism and a mistrust of outsiders.
The other primary characteristic of the British farmer is hypocrisy. He complains that the supermarkets have too much power yet he himself refuses to form marketing groups which could be equally strong. He resents the fact that the retail trade sells his lamb and beef for the maximum price the market will bear, yet when he himself takes his animals to market he asks the auctioneer to sell to the highest bidder. He attends demonstrations protesting the import of foreign meat and produce before getting into his Japanese four-wheel-drive jeep to return to the farm. He complains endlessly of government interference yet is only too happy to accept one third of his income from government handouts.
These attitudes are reflected by the NFU. Reform is improbable since the organisation today is less democratic than Stalin's politburo; for a membership of 60,000, 89 men and one woman elect the president. For generations, the core belief of the NFU has been based on the premise that a farmer -- simply because he produces food -- is entitled to privileges which are not granted to any other profession. It is why most British farmers today feel that they have a god-given right to farm.
Only when the NFU accepts that its members deserve no special treatment from society will we be able to rejoin society. Until then farmers will remain outcasts -- a fate we richly deserve.
The author is a farmer in Cambridgeshire
Aug 24 02
NI farmers slam retailersThe Ulster Farmers' Union president said today that the modern food supply chain will ruin the local farming industry.
Ulster tv Newsroom
John Gilliland`s comments were made following a meeting with Sainsbury's representatives. He travelled to Scotland to discuss the recent fall in pig prices with the UK multiple.
The UFU is holding similar discussions with all the retailers, challenging them to demonstrate more loyalty to the local agricultural industry.
In Edinburgh, John Gilliland saw first-hand a clear example of local produce being displaced by imported produce.
Mr Gilliland explained: "A temporary oversupply of Danish bacon has seen local produce substituted by imports. This is a totally unsustainable situation for the local industry and is collapsing prices. The market will recover eventually but when the multiples turn once again to local produce, will it be there?"
Aug 23 02
70,000 'set to join farmers' strikeMore than 70,000 farmers are set to take part in a 24-hour production strike starting at midnight, protest leaders have claimed. The action has been called as a response to falling prices and the Government's handling of rural issues.
Farmers taking part have been asked not to sell whatever they produce during the day even if it means going to waste.
No-one is sure how many of the 352,000 UK farmers will take part in the 24-hour strike. Farmers For Action , the group organising the protest, claim it could be as many as 20%.
The strike does not have the support of the powerful National Farmers' Union, who described it as a "risky strategy that could backfire". The National Beef Association said they would not go as far as supporting the strike but understood the pressures farmers were facing.
Livestock auctions are unlikely to be affected as none handling meat for slaughter is scheduled to take place and just four official farmers markets are planned, all of which report no disruption.
David Handley, chairman of Farmers For Action, said they would be calling on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett to resign for failing to properly address problems faced by farming.
"It looks like support for the strike will be in excess of 20% judging by the phone calls to the office," said Mr Handley, a dairy farmer from Monmouthshire, South Wales. "As far as we are concerned there is a plan to reduce the number of producers in the UK and we think this is to the detriment of the country because we need to be self-sufficient."
Mr Handley, a veteran of the fuel protests of 2000, said the same tactics, as well as those used by militant French farmers, may be employed. ....
Aug 23 02
MEAT FACTORY CLOSURE FEARSGILLIAN MOLESWORTH
This is Devon
Farmers and village traders in a Cornish parish fear they will be hit by the imminent "mothballing" of an abattoir and the departure of 115 workers.
St Merryn Meat Ltd made an announcement last week about its meat processing facility at Probus, near Truro, and plans to transfer work from there to another factory at Bodmin.
The impending closure of the Probus facility has been blamed by the company on a shortage of British livestock resulting from the foot and mouth crisis.
Many Cornish suppliers to the Probus abattoir, midway between Truro and St Austell, face an extra 40 mile round trip to deliver stock to Bodmin. Farmer John Richards, of St Mewan, has supplied cattle to the Probus facility for years.
Mr Richards said: "The buyer told me things might be shut for a while. If it is just a while that is one thing but if it is a prelude to closing that is bad news. "I always carry my own stock, and now I'll have to drive up to the Bodmin abattoir, which is a longer trip. It's not as bad for me as for those down in the west.
"When you've got a lorry full of cattle each mile counts. "This is an added cost in an industry that cannot afford it. It is never good news when a local abattoir goes down."
Margaret Richards, owner of Trudgian farm shop, Probus, said: "There will be knock-on effects for the village, no doubt. "The workers don't have a canteen at the Probus abattoir. "They come in here for their pasties and sausage rolls and go to the village shops for their coffee, papers and cigarettes. Those shops will feel it."
Probus councillor Barry Willcox said: "There will be some impact in terms of local employment. But many of the workers come from elsewhere." He added: "We've had problems for years with the abattoir. "Before St Merryn Meat took it over there were problems with the smell, athough St Merryn cleared that up pretty well.
"We've had an ongoing problem with noise caused by lorries, empty and full, going over speed humps in the village.
"The abattoir is in a residential area. Noise has been a problem from the lorries and the building's refrigeration units."
posted Aug 22 02
Cloud over Welsh farming one year after last FMD caseExactly one year after the last case of foot and mouth disease in Wales an economic cloud still hangs over Welsh farming due to the Government's refusal to scrap the20-day livestock movement restrictions, Farmers' Union of Wales President Bob Parry said today. The last confirmed FMD outbreak in Wales was on a farm at Llangenny, near Crickhowell, on 12 August 2001. In total, there were 118 confirmed cases in Wales including 78 in Powys, 20 in Monmouthshire, 13 on Anglesey, three around Newport, two at Caerphilly and one each in Neath/Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taff.
Mr Parry said despite the Government's partial relaxation last week of the 20-day standstill rule it still remains a major obstacle to the industry's efforts to return to normality following the world's most devastating outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
"2001 will undoubtedly go down as the worst year in farming ever but it is now being compounded by the Government's intransigence over the 20-day standstill rule," said Mr Parry.
"They have emerged from the various inquiries into their handling of last year's crisis with little credit yet they still do not appear to have learned any lessons. Maintaining the 20-day standstill rule will drive cash-strapped farmers and auctioneers out of business," he warned. "Not only did we struggle throughout 2001 with average farm incomes hovering just above the £4,000 a year mark, we also witnessed the wholesale slaughter of millions of animals in the Government's attempts to halt the merciless spread of foot and mouth disease."
There were 2,030 confirmed outbreaks of the disease in the UK between February 20 and September 30 last year with 6.1m animals slaughtered - 4.1m for disease control and 2m for animal welfare. In Wales 335,184 animals were slaughtered - 294,130 sheep, 34,992 cattle, 5,941 pigs and 121 goats. Direct losses for UK agriculture and rural tourism were estimated to be between £2.2 and £2.5bn but it is believed indirect costs pushed that figure up to £8bn.
"Lessons still need to be learned from the mistakes that occurred during 2001, and it is scandalous that the Government refused to hold a full and open public inquiry. The three Government inquiries carried out virtually behind closed doors did not go far enough. "What was the point of an inquiry if it didn't have the legal powers to force key witnesses to give evidence? I believe a full public inquiry would have been the only realistic way of getting at the truth, however difficult or embarrassing for individuals that truth may have been."
Mr Parry added that one conclusion reached by the Welsh farming fraternity following last year's crisis was that the National Assembly, with officials based in Wales and dealing with farmers on a daily basis, is preferable to having to deal with DEFRA in their remote London offices. "The way forward for farming in Wales is to have the National Assembly deal exclusively with the industry," said Mr Parry.
Aug 21 02
Factory farming 'spreading disease around the world'Felicity Lawrence, consumer affairs correspondent
The worldwide spread of factory farming is increasing poverty and threatening health, according to a report yesterday by Compassion in World Farming. The report collated for the first time data on livestock production in developing countries and economic analysis from World Bank and UN reports. The animal welfare organisation also examined figures on disease transmitted through food production around the world.
It concluded that the "live stock revolution" was putting small farmers out of business, thereby compromising developing countries' ability to feed themselves, and leading to a global increase in antibiotic-resistant infections.
"In developed northern countries we are moving away from this sort of intensive farming - as we realise the extent of the environmental problems, and the cost to human health - but we are exporting these problems to developing countries instead," wrote Leah Garces, author of the report, Detrimental Impacts of Industrial Animal Agriculture.
Global demand for meat is expected to double over 20 years, with developing countries becoming the main producers for the rest of the world. But as developing countries industrialise their livestock, their ability to feed themselves declines as small rural farmers are forced out of business, the report argued. ..... Tests by Compassion in World Farming on factory chickens sold near Cape Town, South Africa, found they were contaminated by bacteria that caused severe diarrhoea, skin ulceration, and even typhoid. The bacteria were 100% resistant to common antibiotics.
Aug 21 02
A dirty business?
Death, disease and Profit - How one firm cleaned up......... Five hundred miles north of the outbreak, in the tiny Stirlingshire village of Blairlogie, Scots businessman Malcolm Snowie watched the events unfold with studied interest. Snowie, 42, the eldest of four brothers who ran Stirlingshire-based waste management firm, Snowie Ltd, had started his company as a sewage transport firm ten years earlier on the strength of profits from his farm in the foothills of the Ochils.
During the BSE crisis in 1999, Snowie Ltd had successfully diversified into waste disposal - providing airtight containers for the disposal of thousands of animal carcasses. Like his brothers, Malcolm Snowie knew the fact that his firm could provide a fleet of leak-proof lorries to move dead animals meant they were likely to be shortlisted by the government to help stop the spread of foot-and-mouth north of the border.
The Scots businessman was also aware that the situation demanded quick action, but knew the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food operated a protracted competitive tendering process to ensure value for money for the taxpayer.
Anticipating the likelihood of being invited to enter a competitive quote, Snowie called a board meeting at the firm's East Gogar headquarters, attended by his brothers, Alistair, 38, Gordon, 36, and Euan, 33, to prepare their proposal.
Yet the competitive tendering process never came. From the outset Snowie would be one of the only firms in the frame for the job and within weeks of the outbreak the small family company had secured the contract to carry out the lion's share of the foot-and-mouth clear-up, not only in Scotland but in Northern Ireland and the north-east of England.
In a further boost for the firm, Snowie Ltd had not only secured the contract to transport dead animal carcasses across the UK; they had also been handed the task of burning and burying carcasses and managing burial sites to ensure there was no pollution.
By the end of the foot-and-mouth crisis on 14 January 2002, almost 11 months after the first case of the disease was confirmed, Snowie Ltd had earned a staggering £37,751,894 worth of government contracts - excluding VAT. Over the past 12 months the rapid growth of the family-owned Stirling firm has been nothing short of phenomenal, with the company trebling staff to 500 and expanding its waste management empire across Europe and the UK.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Snowie brothers themselves have been enjoying the benefits of their new-found riches, buying up their own yacht firm, Northern Yacht Charters Ltd, and expanding their property portfolio to include a castle in Killin and Boquhan House, a grand mansion on the outskirts of Kippen. To date, Malcolm Snowie himself has directorships in 11 other companies, including Northern Hydro Seed, whose last published profits were £660,000.
Alistair and Gordon have directorships in six of the firm's companies. And the youngest of the four, Euan, has directorships in Bio Solid Services Ltd, Bio Lime Ltd, Bio Recycling Ltd and Bio Grow Ltd. For the Snowies, business couldn't be better.
At Stirling County Rugby Club, where Euan Snowie is a director, the brothers are often seen in the boardroom and locally their profile has soared with Malcolm Snowie recently taking a role in Stirling's failed campaign to gain city status. In the pubs around Clackmannanshire, the Mercedes-driving brothers - who all describe themselves as farmers - are the biggest talking point around.
Yet behind the apparent success of the Stirling-based firm lies a series of controversies that could yet see Snowie's integral role in the foot-and-mouth crisis placed under serious scrutiny. In Scotland some MSPs are already calling for a public enquiry into the firm.
The Scotsman revealed last November that Euan Snowie had gifted the Labour Party £5,000 only months after his firm secured the biggest government contract in their history and before they were granted business worth millions more.
The plot thickened last month after Snowie's biggest northern rival, Armstrongs Transport in Wigan, finally spoke out after the government admitted it had awarded millions of pounds of business to Snowie Ltd without submitting it to competitive tendering.
Lord Whitty, the rural affairs minister, admitted in the Commons that his department had bypassed the process because of the overriding need to act quickly over clearing away carcasses in northern England.
David Cheers, a spokesman for Armstrongs, told The Scotsman recently: "If we had been contacted we could have done the work without any problems, but we didn't get a look-in. We are one of the big four companies in the region who all could have done the work. When the department for rural affairs says that in the early days of the outbreak everything had to be done in a rush and that is why Snowie was chosen, it is ridiculous. If it had wanted to contact the other companies it could have faxed job lists over and it could have been done in an afternoon."
Not surprisingly MPs have already drawn parallels between the row and the controversy surrounding the recent award of a £32 million contract for a smallpox vaccine to PowderJect, a pharmaceutical firm owned by Paul Drayson, who has regularly donated money to the Labour party.
The practice of awarding haulage contracts without tendering during the foot-and-mouth epidemic was highlighted in a report from the National Audit Office (NAO), which said it led to the government paying top rates for services.
The NAO report into the cost of the foot-and-mouth outbreak states that more than £1.1 billion was spent on "goods and services to eradicate the disease" across the UK. The NAO report also revealed that the biggest single payment was made to Snowie Ltd.
The Snowies themselves have kept a low profile over the controversy and recently issued a terse statement through their newly appointed press spokesman dismissing suggestions that the firm was trying to buy influence. He said: "If you have read the NAO report you will see that we gave good value. In fact the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs continues to retain the company in a contract dealing with the effects of Foot-and-Mouth."
Yet Conservative MP George Osborne, a member of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which recently examined the circumstances of the Snowie Ltd contracts, believes the government did not achieve value for taxpayers' money during the foot-and-mouth crisis; largely on the basis that contracts were "not properly put out to tender".
Osborne said: "It certainly seems pretty suspicious that a company that got such lucrative contracts happens to be one that gives money to the Labour party. The priority for the government was speed - they needed big contractors to transport and dispose of animals, and the priority was to get the job done. But when you accelerate the awarding of contracts, you have got to be absolutely sure that there is no suspicion over how they are awarded and you have to be extremely careful about being above board."
To make matters worse for the firm it is not only Snowie's political links that are causing them to come under scrutiny; their environmental record is also being questioned.
During the foot-and-mouth outbreak, the company took dead animals to a mass grave near Lockerbie and to rendering factories and was also the main contractor dealing with the mass burial in Cumbria. But its management of such sites was called into question when 900 animals were buried at the wrong location at Tow Law, Country Durham, and had to be reburied. The company said it had been given bad advice.
But Snowie continues to be one of the main operators for such work, and earlier this month they were awarded a transport contract for disposal of carcasses in Cumbria, beating five other companies in a tendering process. On three occasions the firm has also been fined for breaching environmental standards. Snowie Ltd was prosecuted in February and October 2000 and June 2001 for breaking waste regulations.
In October 2000, it pleaded guilty to causing liquid waste to enter a tributary of the Cadger Burn, near Blairingone. The tributary feeds into the Gartmorn Dam, which supplies Alloa's drinking water. The company was found guilty and fined £1,000.
Earlier in that same year, the firm was fined £3,000 after admitting it allowed distilling waste from breweries to run into a tributary of the River Teith, in Doune, Perthshire. In June 2001, Snowie was fined £5,000 after injecting waste into land at a farm south of Saline, West Fife, in a manner that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency claimed was likely to cause pollution.
The company has also been at the centre of controversy for spreading abattoir waste on land in Clackmannanshire. That practice is not illegal and is not related to Snowie's fines, but local people have campaigned hard against it.
According to the SNP environment spokesman, Bruce Crawford, Snowie's environmental record has been open to serious question. He says: "Snowie have been repeatedly fined by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency yet they won the contract for part of the clean-up of Scotland's largest ever environmental disaster. The fact that they made a donation to the Labour party and have won not only the foot-and-mouth contract but contracts with three Labour-run water authority quangos leaves them open to scrutiny. They may sniff at £5,000 but it's still a donation to Labour and they still do regular business with the Labour government. It is time for Labour to clean up its sleazy act and stop favouring its political friends."
Scottish Labour remain indignant about accusations over their relationship with Snowie Ltd.
A party spokesman says: "Big donations have no effect whatsoever on how the Labour party conducts itself. If people have any evidence that this is not the case, they should come forward with it rather than throwing around unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing."
Yet Scottish Tory rural affairs spokesman Alex Fergusson claims the Snowie issue is far from over: "The real issue here is whether the government attained what they would call "best value" from the companies they contracted to carry out the clean up in the aftermath of Foot-and-Mouth. While I cannot criticise how successfully they carried out the job, in the case of Snowie Ltd I cannot see how best value could've been attained when there was no competitive tendering process and they were simply handed the role. How could DEFRA have gotten best value from Snowie when there was no other company bid to compare their quote with? This firm effectively had a monopoly on a £38 million government contract. The deal wasn't exactly done on a level playing field according to the strict rules of tendering practice." .......
Aug 21 02
Sniffer dogs unleashed on illegal meat importsBy Andrew Norfolk
A NEW weapon in the Government's war on illegal meat imports will be revealed next month when two specially trained food sniffer dogs are put to work at Heathrow. The two black labradors are the latest members of a rapidly expanding army of dogs whose highly defined sense of smell is being harnessed for law enforcement, rescue and medical purposes worldwide. Heathrow's labradors will detect meat, fish and other animal products inside luggage and freight containers arriving at the airport. If they prove successful, the six-month pilot project will be expanded to train dozens of dogs to operate at ports and airports across the country.
The National Farmers' Union, which has led calls for tougher action to curb illegal meat imports, welcomed the use of sniffer dogs but criticised as inadequate the use of only two animals in the pilot project. Michael Seals, the union's food standards chairman, said that he was "angry that it's taken 12 months to get two dogs".
"I hope this is not just window dressing. The Australians have 82 detector dogs and they've been using them to protect their livestock from exotic disease for ten years," he said. "Two detector dogs are a start but something nearer 200 are required to provide the level of protection that British livestock deserve. Those two dogs will have their work cut out checking the 219,178 bags that arrive at Heathrow every day."
Alison Reeves, who is managing the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) illegal imports action plan, defended the project and said that the Government was determined to ensure that the dogs were successful before expanding the scheme.
The one-year-old male dogs, which come from the same litter, are among a series of measures to reduce the risk of diseases reaching Britain via infected food products.
Scientists believe that the virus responsible for the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease may have originated in illegally imported meat. Cases of swine fever and TB have also been blamed on foreign food products.
The Anderson inquiry into last year's foot-and-mouth epidemic urged the Government to step up efforts to keep illegal meat out of Britain.
In addition to the detector dogs and a campaign to raise public awareness of the risk of importing infected animal products, Defra is considering the use of X-ray equipment to scan containers and personal baggage for organic material, plus the introduction of "amnesty" bins into which passengers can deposit illegal food.
Aug 21 02
Meacher's scepticism on GM crops reflects shift in opinion, say greensBy Paul Waugh Deputy Political Editor
Green groups called on the Government to abandon farm-scale trials of genetically modified crops yesterday after the Environment minister Michael Meacher admitted he was sceptical about their usefulness.
The Soil Association said Mr Meacher's comments in yesterday's Independent reflected a shift in wider opinion away from GM crops and their alleged benefits.
The association said that its own fears over the risks of contamination of organic food had been borne out, after Hendrik Verfaille, the chief executive of the biotechnology firm Monsanto, said he would assume no progress in gaining European approval for its products before 2005 because of public and political hostility.
In a further blow to the technology, Zambia became the latest famine-stricken country to reject an American GM maize shipment. Despite 1.75 million people facing starvation, the government feared the possible "long-term effects". Mozambique and Zimbabwe have also rejected GM aid.
Mr Meacher admitted to The Independent that farm-scale trials in Britain might not give an accurate picture of the impact of the technology on plants and wildlife. His comments followed the disclosure last week that crops had been contaminated with unauthorised seeds since the trials began.
Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, said: "The GM sceptics wing in the Government, I think, is growing ... We warned several years ago of all the potential dangers of introducing GM crops, the risk of crossing into wild species, of contamination of GM-free and organic food, and of containment problems." Mr Holden said Mr Meacher clearly had doubts on the capacity of the trials to show whether GM food was safe. "He is reflecting the politics of a shift away from this determination to roll the crops out in the autumn."
Fourteen people were arrested for criminal damage and aggravated trespass on Sunday when a group of about 50 protesters met to remove a trial of GM oilseed rape near Hilton, Dorset. The site, one of at least 12 where the unauthorised antibiotic-resistant rape was found, was attacked in protest at the blunder by Aventis, which produced the seeds.
Aug 20 02
Meacher attacks US 'pressure' over GMBy Marie Woolf Chief Political Correspondent
Michael Meacher reignited the row over genetically modified crops yesterday, admitting that Britain was being pressed by the US to allow commercial planting. However, the Environment minister insisted he was "sceptical" of the benefits of GM and insisted: "We are not going to be bounced into this by the Americans." Any decision to open up commercial planting of GM crops would be based on hard evidence, he said in an interview with The Independent.
Mr Meacher acknowledged that opponents of GM technology believed the changes were being "steamrollered through", but insisted that the public would be able to see all evidence on the impact of GM crops before widespread planting went ahead.
Asked whether America was pressing for expanded GM production, Mr Meacher said: "Well, you know there is. The Americans are very keen. The amount of the prairies which have been cultivated with GM is colossal."
Mr Meacher insisted that he was "on the sceptical wing" of the argument over GM. "Those people who do feel very strongly about it, to the extent of going around ripping up crops, they may continue to do so.
"But what I think many of them object to is the feeling that the Government is steam rolling it through. There has been intense hostility expressed in many quarters. However, it is fair to say there has never really been a controlled and balanced debate."
The Environment minister's remarks are likely to inflame the controversy over the Government's handling of the GM issue, which received a blow last week when it emerged that trial crops have been contaminated with unauthorised GM seeds since the trials began.
Mr Meacher acknowledged that the decision would be "sensitive" But, he said: "We are not saying we have a little closed group of five people, and we are going to take a decision and tell you in our wisdom what we are going to do. We are going to tell you what the evidence is."
The Government's farm-scale trials may not give an accurate picture of the impact GM crops may have on the environment, he admitted. "We are talking about the impact on plants, on invertebrates, on birds, on insects," he said. "It's, what, 100 sites each year? But if you have general commercialisation you may get different effects over and above what these isolated fields will show."
Some of the herbicides which would be used on GM crops if they were grown in Britain could "wipe out" a whole swathe of conventional crops, he warned.
Aug 19 02
This business of Labour's commitment to GM cropsWhat is it with Labour and genetically modified crops? So doggedly does the Government stick to its line that all is for the best in this best of all possible trials that reason seems to have disappeared from view.
Labour has, it appears, been bought -- politically, at the very least -- by the GM companies. For most of the 20th century Labour was, at best, ambivalent about business. So desperate is it now to prove that it has become business-friendly that it has lost any sense of proportion; the fact that the GM food industry wants trials is treated as reason enough for them to go ahead, however compelling the opposing arguments.
One exception, however, to this appetite for all things GM stands out: Michael Meacher. Mr Meacher has, as his interview with us today shows, been given what amounts to licensed-jester status within the Government. Most observers expected him to survive only until the first reshuffle. Instead, he has become the only minister outside the Cabinet to remain in post for all of Labour's five years in power. That is, not least, because he provides a useful foil for the Prime Minister.
It is unusual for any minister to be kept in post after making it obvious that he is against government policy. For that minister to be the Environment Minister, and for his difference with policy to be over a part of his brief as sensitive as GM crops, is, in normal circumstances, astonishing. (Indeed, Mr Meacher makes clear his opposition to action against Iraq, which is not remotely part of his brief.) But the Prime Minister seems to think that, so long as Mr Meacher is given the freedom to sound off, opposition from environmentalists can be bought off.
He is wrong. The Environment Minister is not speaking for himself alone, but also for others within the Government yet without his license to roam; and, more importantly, for most of the electorate, who do not share Mr Blair's belief that anything backed by a large business must be right.
Mr Meacher has earned the respect of environmentalists; it is not his fault that his position is used by the Prime Minister to such cynical ends.
Aug 19 02
Michael Meacher: Britain's crusader for every green cause under the sunBy Marie Woolf Chief Political Correspondent 19 August 2002
Michael Meacher is embarrassed by the fuss. When the Prime Minister removed him from the British delegation to next week's Earth Summit in Johannesburg, a furore started. Green groups offered to pay his air fare, normally hostile Tories spoke in his defence and even members of the public phoned in protest.
Tony Blair put his Environment minister back on the flight to South Africa -- taking the seat that had been reserved for Baroness Amos, a Foreign Office minister. ....... ........ "What heartened me about the whole process was that there is an environmental lobby and environmental concern out there. It wasn't just the NGOs [non-government organisations], incidentally. A lot of members of the public, as I have been finding out, felt very strongly about this."
Mr Meacher has been Environment minister since Labour came to power in 1997 and before that was spokesman on green issues. Despite five years in the same job and, some would argue, five years of frustration, he retains an animated enthusiasm for solutions to global warming and waste management, and has an armoury of obscure statistics and acronyms at his disposal to argue his point.
He is preparing to focus at the Johannesburg summit on sustainable energy solutions "including wind and tidal power" for the developing world, and to ensure that the world's poor have access to clean drinking water. Anger enters his voice when he explains that 2 million children under five die every year from drinking dirty water.
"That is more per day -- in fact nearly twice the number -- than died on 11 September. That was one terrible event on one day. This is every day, and totally unheard of, totally unnoticed. I think that is a criminal indictment of our civilised world," he says.
"In terms of world development, it is the single biggest issue. There are 6 billion of us on this planet; there are 1 billion who do not have access to clean drinking water. That is a staggering fact."
In Britain, Mr Meacher is hoping to create a "zero-waste society", where almost nothing is thrown away and rubbish is recycled or reclaimed. He wants bottle banks on every high street and even a machine that spews out money-back tickets when cans and bottles are deposited through a slot. Tyres, he suggests, could be turned into underlay for carpets while crushed bottles could be used as the foundations for roads.
The minister is also trying to persuade the Chancellor to cough up subsidies for solar power. "This is the solar century," he says. "This century is going to provide solar energy for heating and power on a scale which is almost unlimited." But such ambitions face practical limitations, he admits. "At this stage, for an ordinary domestic house, it is not sensible unless you have significant subsidy."
Mr Meacher was bitterly attacked last year for building up an extensive property portfolio of homes around the country, despite having criticised second-home owners for squeezing local people out of their own communities at the Labour party conference three years ago.
He and his wife are reported to own eight homes. Mr Meacher insists the number is lower but will not specify how many. His entry in the Register of MPs' interests list "a small number of flats in SW and NW London from which rental income is received".
Mr Meacher has also been buffeted by repeated rumours that he may be the next casualty in a government reshuffle, but has resolutely hung on to his job. ...............
Like many of his parliamentary colleagues, Mr Meacher is worried by British involvement in a strike on Iraq. "It's a hugely important issue and I have great concerns about this, but I am not making any public comment," he says.
His reputation for being the only minister with genuine green credentials and the knowledge to back them up seems to have preserved him. Mr Meacher insists he is not in favour of spin, but is often called up to defend the Government's green record when things go embarrassingly wrong. ............. placed in the embarrassing position of defending the Government's handling of the change in recycling regulations that led to mountains of old fridges piling up around the country.
Mr Meacher is, he says, happier constructing a green future for Britain quietly and out of the limelight. Behind the scenes, he is examining a suggestion to introduce emissions trading for airlines. Proposals to tax airline fuel seem to be stuck on the runway for now because of American opposition, he says.
"I am not saying it's a non- runner, but it's not easy to see how it's going to make pro-gress," he says. He is enthused by the idea of continuously monitoring incinerators for dioxin levels. But what excites him most at the moment are proposals to introduce targets forcing local councils to keep the streets clean.
Mr Meacher rejects his reputation as a lone green crusader in a government of biotechnology freaks and industry enthusiasts. But he says green issues are not a high enough government priority, and he often finds himself cajoling ministerial colleagues to take the environment more seriously.
"I would like to see more colleagues more excited, more committed, more energetic about green issues....... "There is still too much pollution. There is no question about that." And he is "disappointed" by the lack of progress in areas such as recycling and the management of radioactive waste.
Mr Meacher has been trying to persuade the Government that votes lie in green issues, among precisely the people that New Labour should be trying to attract -- Middle Englanders.
The environmental movement is "an unseen force", which has captured "the imagination of millions of often swing voters," he says.
His controversial exclusion from the delegation for the Earth Summit may have brought the popularity of environmental issues to the fore. "I'm not sure I would have chosen the trigger, but this is what brought it to light."
Aug 19 02
Farmer sues for foot and mouth burial 'bungle'By Rajeev Syal
A farmer whose land was commandeered as a site to burn and bury animal carcasses during the foot and mouth crisis is suing the Government for £8 million.
Kevin Feakins, who owns Hill Farm at Llancloudy in Herefordshire, claims that remains of the destroyed animals have infected his water supply and soil, and seeped into a nearby lagoon. He also alleges that his farm buildings were severely damaged by Government officials and that his crops were ruined.
A report by pollution consultants has concluded that it will cost more than £8 million to clean up the land, cleanse the water supply and repair farm buildings.
The ground-breaking case is the first from a number of farmers who claim that their land has been infected because of poor disposal methods by workers employed by the Government.
Mr Feakins has issued legal proceedings in the High Court against the Department of Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (Defra), demanding compensation.
He said last week: "They took over my farm, and I let them, because they were Government officials. I did not expect them to overrun my farm and then break every rule in the environmental book. "They dug into an area that feeds into my water supply, and buried the bodies without protecting the soil properly.
"They smashed the farm buildings, brought in people who had never been on farms before and sprayed acid on the soil. They have never been back to put it right and have done terrific environmental damage," he said.
Mr Feakins, 50, was named by the Government as one of two sheep dealers who unwittingly spread foot and mouth throughout Britain and France, after trading in livestock in February last year.
At that time, he was a successful farmer and trader who built up Garron Livestock, a £3 million-a-year export business supplying farmers in Germany and France. His company would transport an average of 2,000 sheep between September and March each year. At the height of the outbreak, however, all of his 270 cattle and 650 sheep were destroyed. He claims that Government officials marched on to his farm and assumed the right to burn the cattle on his land. Animal carcasses from his and adjoining farms were piled high and set on fire, with images of the burning pyre being broadcast across the world.
The pyre burnt for more than a month, but Mr Feakins claims that it was extinguished before it had destroyed all the animal remains, leaving bones and singed flesh. He alleges that officials took the ash and the unburnt remains and buried them on land that is part of the water basin that supplies his family and his animals.
The Environment Agency, the Government quango that assessed each farm for licences to burn and bury cattle, gave a specific grid reference to ministry officials to burn and bury the animals. However, they did not adhere to the reference and buried the remains about 200 yards closer to the farm, according to Mr Feakins.
He said that the burial site was within the area that fed his water supply borehole. Mr Feakins, who is married with four children, said that as a result his family was being forced to drink only bottled water. His business, he says, has been ruined and he he cannot sell his property because of the damage that has been left behind.
The report into the farm, by Betta Environmental Solutions, one of Britain's leading environmental damage companies, was commissioned by Mr Feakins' solicitors.
John Wainewright, the managing director of Betta, said: "Cleaning up the borehole, the basin, the soil and ridding the soil of chemicals is expensive. The damage was surprising, given that the Government claimed that their work would be quick, clean and efficient."
If Mr Feakins is successful in his action, other farmers will follow suit, and the compensation payments will increase the staggering costs of the foot and mouth crisis, which already stands at £4 billion. The Government recently bought two homes blighted by an animal burial site in Worcestershire.
A Defra spokesman said that the Government would contest Mr Feakins' claim. "The ministry believes that it has lawfully carried out operations in connection with the control of foot and mouth on this farm. Defra is aware of most of the claims and will contest the issues in the litigation."
Aug 18 02
NFU accused of smear campaignBy Farmers Weekly staff
Farmers Weekly interactive
THE National Farmers' Union is accused of conducting a smear campaign in a bid to thwart talks over milk prices.
Senior NFU officials telephoned NFU Scotland president Jim Walker urging him not to attend a meeting between Farmers For Action and Robert Wiseman Dairies. Mr Walker refused to comply with NFU demands and attended the meeting, which took place last Saturday (10 August).
While NFU leaders in England seek to minimise publicity for Farmers For Action, Mr Walker claimed that everyone should be fighting for the same result - profitable farming. "I am happy to meet anyone who has that aim. The NFU in the south does not control NFU Scotland, and it most certainly does not control me.
"People can agree or disagree with Farmers For Action's tactics, but everyone involved in that organisation is totally committed to our industry and they can see no other way to get people to listen."
It is also alleged that Dairy Crest officials were invited to the meeting and were contacted by the NFU. A company spokeswoman is investigating the claim. But a spokeswoman from NFU headquarters in London said she could find no evidence that any such conversations took place.
The meeting with Robert Wiseman Dairies failed to achieve a better milk price.
Farmers For Action is asking its supporters not to sell any milk or other farm produce for 24 hours on Friday, 23 August in protest at low prices.
Mr Walker said it would be difficult for NFUS to be involved in direct action because it could be held liable for any losses inflicted on affected businesses.
But he has asked NFUS members to consider whether they should take direct action as individual farmers.
He added. "The government and big businesses are laughing at us, and that cannot be allowed to continue."
Farmers For Action chairman David Handley said: "I don't care if it is the NFU that gets a milk price rise, we need one desperately."
Aug 17 02
Farmers still bitter about outbreakTony Trainor Tony.Trainor@Wme.Co.Uk, The Western Mail
The Western Mail
A YEAR to the day since the last reported case of foot-and-mouth disease in Wales, its victims are still bitter about the Government's handling of the crisis. Phillip and Gill Bromwell have endured an "annus horribilis" since the infection was confirmed at their family farm at Rheld Fawr in Llangenny, near Crickhowell, Powys.
It was the 118th case of foot-and-mouth in Wales and led to the slaughter of their herd of 144 cattle, which they now believe could have been saved.
"I think our animals could have been saved if they had vaccinated at an early stage," said Mr Bromwell, whose family has farmed Rheld Fawr since the 1930s.
"Last year's epidemic was the worst FMD outbreak on record, but the family of viruses has been known for 150 years. This particular strain has been known for 130 years. "It was the worst outbreak only because it was the most mishandled. If they had closed the markets sooner, a third to a half of livestock would have been saved. "I hope the authorities have learned a lesson and that the Treasury has learned not to let Defra handle a major crisis on its own."
Only days after the lifting of FMD livestock movement restrictions on March 20 of this year, the Bromwells were hit by further restrictions following the three-yearly testing programme for tuberculosis. A new restriction order was slapped on the farm on April 5, pending the results of laboratory tests on one cow with suspected TB. More than three months later the results of the tests are still not known. Although milk produced by their dairy herd is pasteurised and fit for sale, the Bromwells have been unable to take their cattle, including more than 20 calves, to market.
To cap it all, they are still coming to terms with a fire than destroyed a third of their farmhouse two days before the wedding of their son Richard to his fiancie in June. Mr and Mrs Bromwell are now living in their new farmworkers' cottage, which was under construction at the time of the fire.
Mr Bromwell had been due to attend a foot-and-mouth meeting in Builth Wells when an electrical fault led to a blaze in the early hours, killing the family's pet cat Muffin. The Bromwells had to move into their new cottage, although its windows and water supply had not yet been installed because restrictions on vehicle movements had limited access by contractors.
"We had to go to a local hotel before we could move in," said Mrs Bromwell. "It has been a hell of a year. We have gone from one set of restrictions to another.
"And taking on a new herd of cattle has not been easy - we don't know them and they don't know us, and we have been told it could take up to two years for them to settle.
Aug 13 02
SHOPPERS BACK FARMERS OVER THE PRICE OF MILKPETER HALL
Western Morning News
Most shoppers would be happy to pay 5p more for a pint of milk if they knew the money was going direct to dairy farmers.
A survey published yesterday by the National Farmers' Union revealed the willingness on the part of the public to pay extra to keep Britain's dairy farmers in business. The poll also found widespread ignorance about the plight of farmers and the prices paid for milk.
The NFU says prices are at a ten-year low, with British farmers getting an average of just 16p per litre - well below the cost of production.
Over-production of milk, partly caused by a lack of calves and as a result of the knock-on effects of the foot and mouth outbreak, has meant that processors have been paying as little as 12p per litre.
Farmers in co-operatives such as MilkLink (which has head offices in Plymouth) or who have direct contracts with the large processors, are in a better position and earn more per litre than farmers who sell onto the open market.
But farmers who were used to being paid up to 26p per litre not very long ago, are finding it increasingly difficult to make a living.
The survey of 1,000 consumers found that 60 per cent of those living in cities were unaware that the average dairy farmer failed to make a profit on the cost of the milk supplied.
Forty per cent could not remember how much they paid for a pint, even though they bought milk every day.
When asked, 84 per cent said they would pay 5p more for a pint if they could be sure that it went to farmers.
Tim Bennett, NFU deputy chairman, said: "These findings show that while retail price wars and promotions de-sensitise many shoppers to the costs of food production, they really do care and they don't want to see farmers ripped off.
"Farmers will be heartened by this clear show of support for Britain's dairy industry."
Westcountry regional dairy spokesman Rob Warren commented: "As a dairy farmer it's obviously very welcome news. It's good to know we have the public on our side.
"But getting the processors and supermarket chains to play ball is an entirely different matter. It's up to them. The publicity associated with this survey may make a difference."
He said that if the survey really reflected the public's feelings, the question had to be asked why the supermarkets were not already charging the extra 5p. "The reason is they don't think they could get away with the increase, because in actual fact the public would not pay it for very long," Mr Warren added. "When you put up the price of a commodity like milk by more than ten per cent you have to be sure from a marketing point of view that the consumer will wear it.
"The supermarkets could probably do it, just so long as it doesn't affect the nation's consumption of milk."
Milk producers nationally have called for a basic payment of 20.2 pence per litre for their milk and are expecting to achieve about 18 pence per litre, but probably in several negotiated pay rounds. The basic milk price is due to be fixed in October and is subject to EU approval. wmnfarming @westcountrypublications.co.uk
MEACHER 'SLAPPED DOWN' IN GREEN ROWEnvironment Minister Michael Meacher was yesterday slapped down by International Development Secretary Clare Short after he criticised the Government's poor record on "green" issues.
Western Morning News
Mr Meacher last week scored a rare victory over No 10 when he won back his place on the Government delegation for the Earth Summit in Johannesburg after reports he had been dropped provoked an outcry from environmental groups.
He marked his triumph by giving an interview to the Sunday Times claiming the Government was unwilling to face up to the difficult decisions needed to tackle the threat to the environment.
He said ministers "haven't tried hard enough" to reduce car usage and that he was like a "lone voice in the wilderness" when it came to pushing environmental policies in Whitehall.
His comments drew a withering response from Ms Short who bluntly pointed out that the Johannesburg summit was primarily about Third World development issues, not the environment. "This isn't an environmental summit. It's a summit about sustainable development," she told BBC Radio 4's the World This Weekend. "The biggest challenge to the world is to guarantee to the poor of the world development in a planet that we keep sustainable. It isn't just about how we tidy up our environment in the rich countries."
Pressed directly on Mr Meacher's comments, she retorted: "The summit isn't about Britain's transport policy. It is about the sustainable management of the whole world's resources. To focus it all on such issues in the UK is not to talk about what the main issues of the summit will be."
She confirmed that she had volunteered not to go to the summit during earlier discussions on slimming down the size of the British delegation - when it was reported that Mr Meacher was dropped. However, she said pointedly that most senior ministers believed it was important that she should attend. "It was the view of most of my fellow ministers that I needed to be there because the developing countries will be in the lead in this summit," she said.
Her exasperation with Mr Meacher will almost certainly have been shared by No 10, which would not have enjoyed the whole controversy over the composition of the Earth Summit delegation. In his interview with the Sunday Times, Mr Meacher complained that the Government had still not faced up to the scale of the threat to the environment,
"I make no bones about it. I don't think the Government as a whole is ready to take the magnitude of the decisions I think are necessary," he said.
Asked if he believed Tony Blair understood the threat to the environment, he replied: "I hope so. One is like a lone voice in the wilderness." He added: "The world is going very fast into the buffers. Very few people understand that." Despite the irritation in senior Government circles, Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Malcolm Bruce warned that ministers could no longer afford to ignore Mr Meacher.
"The row over Michael Meacher's role in the Government's delegation to the world summit in Johannesburg has strengthened his position in the Government and presents an environmental challenge to Tony Blair," he said.
"Mr Meacher has now become virtually unsackable. If he was removed, or even moved, it would be a direct snub to environmental campaigners."
Aug 12 posted Aug 13 02
Farming 'still suffering' after F&MBy Vicky Shaw
The farming industry continues to suffer a year after the last case of foot-and-mouth disease in Wales, farmers' groups said today.
Exactly one year after the last case an "economic cloud" still hangs over farming, Farmers' Union of Wales President Bob Parry said. The last confirmed in Wales was on a farm at Llangenny, near Crickhowell, on August 12, 2001 and there were 118 confirmed cases in Wales altogether.
Mr Parry claimed that despite the Government's partial relaxation of the 20-day standstill rule, which restricts the movement of livestock, it remains a major obstacle to the industry's efforts to return to normality. "Maintaining the 20-day standstill rule will drive cash-strapped farmers and auctioneers out of business," said Mr Parry.
Mr Parry also called for a full public enquiry and added: "The way forward for farming in Wales is to have the National Assembly deal exclusively with the industry."
Peredur Hughes, President of NFU Cymru said: "The devastation of foot-and-mouth last year was felt throughout the agricultural industry and beyond. "We are slowly building bridges and are extremely relieved that there have been no further outbreaks since August 12, 2001. "Having said this, the industry is continuing to suffer the ramifications of foot-and-mouth disease, both in management and financial terms.
"NFU Cymru will continue to press in its discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government and central Government for the early implementation of more flexible trading practices."
A spokeswoman for the Welsh Assembly said the foot-and-mouth disease does not recognise any boundaries. She added: "We have to work together."
Last week Welsh Rural Development Minister Michael German welcomed relaxations to the 20-day whole farm standstill announced on Thursday, August 8, by DEFRA Animal Health Minister Elliot Morley.
He said at the time: "We have to have several lines of defence, and movement rules are important to limit the extent to which disease would spread before being detected. We cannot afford a repeat of the 2001 outbreak.
"The rules are in place to protect the livestock farming industry from the risk of another major disease outbreak and it is essential that they are observed. That is in all farmers' interests."
Aug 12 posted 13 02
Ministers 'cave in 'over farm protest planBy Laura Peek
THE Government was accused yesterday of caving in to militant farmers over restrictions on livestock movements introduced during the foot-and-mouth epidemic. The farmers cancelled a threatened day of action yesterday after the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs agreed to alter the 20-day rule that forbids the movement of animals for three weeks after the arrival of new livestock.
The rule was introduced after the foot-and-mouth crisis but farmers complained that it was crippling their work before the crucial autumn breeding season. They had threatened to blockade roads and supermarkets in protest.
Two weeks ago Lord Whitty, the minister in charge of animal health, refused to lift the ban, telling a meeting of sheep producers that he recognised that the decision would be deeply disappointing. The ministry reversed that decision on Friday, however, after farmers announced the day of action, which had been due to be held yesterday. The ministry amended the rule so that sheep and cattle brought on to a farm for breeding will go into strict isolation and will not trigger a movement ban on the rest of the stock.
The Conservatives said yesterday that the U-turn was a shambles. James Gray, Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, said: "The whole saga has been a shambles from start to finish. It is the last saga in a disgraceful and badly handled crisis. It was an absurd rule."
The decision also provoked criticism that the Government had buckled under the threat of national disruption, encouraging other groups, such as fuel protesters, to believe that direct action will further their cause.
Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrats' Rural Affairs spokesman, said: "The Government provokes hostility by failing to consult over pretty radical measures. Then they make themselves look weak by giving in to protests.
"It is a pretty poor way to make decisions and it gives a bad signal, which could encourage other groups to think they can force the Government to change policy."
Fuel protesters said that they were encouraged by the Government's response to the farmers. Tony Vickers, who co-ordinated the fuel tax campaign, said: "It sends a message that it is worth protesting. It is a shame you have to go to those lengths to get the Government to pay attention.
"Direct action seems to be one of the most effective ways to persuade the Government that they are taking the wrong decision."
Bryan Gregory, chairman of the Association of British Drivers, added: "It seems that the only way we can reason with this Government is to engage in direct action. They do not listen to reasoned argument. You have to put a gun to their head and cause a great deal of disruption. The next thing will be the fuel protesters mobilising to do something about congestion charges."
Jonathan Barber, a sheep farmer, who organised the day of action, said that he was pleased with the results of the threatened protests. "The pressure we exerted on Defra made them turn around within a day and a half," he said. "There is no question that the protest contributed to the ministers moving."
Elliott Morley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the ministry, said: "The day of action played no part in this decision. This has been under discussion for months. It was absolutely no consideration at all. It was a difficult decision because in terms of minimising disease it would have been better to make no movement at all. It was a question of reaching a balance to help farmers."
Aug 13 02
British Prince to Launch Fashion LabelLONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Prince Charles, lover of all things natural, will launch his own range of country clothing to help revive the rural economy, the Sunday Times reported.
The royal fashion label will only use wool supplied by British sheep farmers and the products will be made in rural workshops, the paper said. It quoted an informed source as saying the project had been motivated by Charles's "deep sense of obligation" to tackle the crisis in agriculture. "Although he is a substantial donor in his own right to charity, and raises many millions more, he wants to provide practical leadership," the source said.
Britain's agricultural industry was ravaged by last year's foot and mouth epidemic. According to figures from the National Farmers' Union, the average British farmer earned just $15,270 in the year to February.
The source told the Sunday Times that rising profits at the prince's organic food firm, Duchy Originals, had convinced him he should test the potential of other country enterprises. The company announced profits for the year to March 2001 of $873,000, all of which was donated to the Prince of Wales's Charitable Foundation. Charles also plans to market a new line of garden furniture made from oak bought from British farmers, the paper said.
The launch of the new products has been set provisionally for next year, according to a spokesman for Duchy Originals, but it was unclear exactly what would be on offer.
The prince's style could be described as more classical than cutting edge, suggesting tweed jackets and wool sweaters. But the paper hinted that the label could be influenced by Charles's sons, Princes William and Harry. Jeremy Hackett, founder of Hackett clothing, told the Sunday Times the young princes could have a lucrative effect on the new label.
"If he put the princes in Windsor polo shirts, the sales would be so great that he could give up the day job," he said.
Aug 11 02
After The CullIs there life in rural Scotland after foot-and-mouth? Alan Taylor and photographer Peter Sandground pulled on their wellies and headed for the annual Wigtown agricultural show to investigate
YOU may think that a cow is a cow is a cow but you are wrong. Ask any cattle farmer and he will tell you that cows are like people, unique individuals with distinctive personalities and some disgusting habits. Take the one pictured above. Obviously, it's the Victoria Beckham of the cow world. Not being particularly au fait with cows I can't say for certain what kind of breed it is. It could be a Friesian but I wouldn't bet on it. Alison Millar from Northern Ireland is giving it a Mohican cut, carefully trimming its coat with a razor before applying the blow drier. Meanwhile minders wearing white lab coats and green wellies walk warily around it, keen to avoid the lash of its tail. If there is such a publication as Playcow it would surely be a prime contender for the centrefold, erotically displaying its udder while the bulls in another field slaver in anticipation. As cows go, there's no doubt number 00604 is a real cutie.
But as you traipse around Bladnoch Park, home of the annual Wigtown Show, you soon realise it's one among hundreds. Nor do the cows have all the limelight. There are immaculately turned out sheep, goats with coats that might have been tailored in Savile Row, ponies groomed gleamingly to perfection. But when it comes to pandering, none compares to the Clydesdale horses. Men with sausage-sized fingers delicately pleat their manes with ribbons after which they shampoo the hair on their hooves. Then, just before they go in front of the judges, the horses' hair is powdered with sawdust and fluffed up with a comb. Brides have gone to the altar looking less gorgeous.
The Wigtown Show is held every year on the first Wednesday in August. Last year, however, it was cancelled, one of the many casualties of foot-and-mouth disease. The number of entries for this year's show is a sign that farming in the south of Scotland is recovering. Even by eight o'clock on a wet morning the car park had begun to fill up and all roads leading to Wigtown were busy. The show lasts all day but the judging of livestock is over by lunchtime, after which the beer tents fill up. For rural communities, agricultural shows are crucial events, part social, part business, an accurate barometer, according to the Galloway Gazette -- which devoted two pages to a full preview of the Wigtown Show -- of the area's prosperity.
'We have the Scottish Countryside Alliance,' says Wigtown's Tannoy announcer, listing the companies and organisations attending the show. 'We have the Church of God. We have Everest Double Glazing. We have Alex Ferguson ... MSP.' Mr Ferguson, who looks uncannily like David Blunkett, is in his tent, sheltering from deluge. Last year, he says, was disastrous for the southwest of Scotland, arguably even more so for those farmers whose animals were not culled because they couldn't sell their animals and did not qualify for compensation.
The first case of foot-and-mouth in Scotland was confirmed on March 1, 2001, at a farm near Lockerbie in Dumfriesshire, the last on May 30, 2001, in Berwickshire. In three apocalyptic months, the countryside was transformed and stilled. At the peak of the epidemic up to seven new cases were being reported daily. In Dumfries and Galloway almost 180 farms -- two-thirds -- were infected. In all, over 600,000 animals, many healthy, were slaughtered. Most of the dead animals were set on pyres on farms where they had once grazed, provoking haunting images.
It was a traumatic time. Matters were made worse by the conflicting advice from the government who, taking their lead from scientific experts, insisted that animals within a three-kilometre radius of an infected farm also had to be killed. Last month, Iain Anderson's Lessons To Be Learned inquiry into foot-and-mouth reported that in Scotland it was handled 'as effectively as possible given the circumstances', citing the experience 12 years earlier of the Lockerbie air disaster, which had 'facilitated cross-agency working'.
Nevertheless, the cost to clean up and disinfect farms in Dumfries and Galloway was £39,000 per farm. The cost to the taxpayer, including compensation to farmers who lost their livestock, was £334 million. Arguments continue to rage over whether culling was the best policy, with some commentators claiming that the vested interests of farmers and the food industry, coupled with a lack of political leadership, led to the needless slaughter of millions of healthy animals. Contrary to the advice given to the government, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and its counterpart in London, in reports on the epidemic published in July, recommended that in future outbreaks of the disease vaccination should replace culling. They further recommended that parts of the countryside not directly affected by foot-and-mouth should be opened to the public after a precautionary shutdown of three weeks in order to reduce the economic impact on rural tourism, which is estimated to have lost around £200m during the last outbreak.
At the beginning of May last year I toured the Borders and Galloway, testing headlines proclaiming that everything was pretty much back to normal. It was far from that. Roads were deserted and fields eerily empty. Footpaths, closed on February 27, 2001, remained out of bounds, ostensibly to prevent the disease spreading. Trespassers were threatened with a £5000 fine. 'Much of Scotland's countryside is free of foot-and-mouth,' proclaimed Scottish Natural Heritage in its wishfully titled leaflet The Comeback Code, which was perhaps factually true but completely misleading in affected areas. Everywhere were keep-out signs. Forest Enterprise had closed all forests, the National Trust had shut Threave Gardens and hikers were denied access to the Southern Upland Way, which stretches 212 miles . Fishing in lochs and rivers was also forbidden.
It was a calamitous time for businesses dependent on visitors. Guest houses which normally would have been fully booked had more vacancies than a job centre. In a hotel at Gatehouse of Fleet, apart from myself the only guests were slaughtermen, drafted in by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The word they used to describe their grim task was 'sheeping'. The psychological effect on farmers, already economically under the cosh, was frightening. 'This is Death Valley,' one told me after his entire flock had been culled in a pyre adjacent to his house. I learned of another who after his sheep were cremated took to his bed and was still there a fortnight later. Many farmers said that enough was enough, that they would get out of farming if they could. There was much talk of suicide. Prayers were said and counsellors offered help. Across the southwest, in some of the creamiest countryside in the land, in supernatural sunshine, lay a sense of dread.
At Wigtown last Wednesday the rain eventually relented and the sun shone and the crowds converged on Bladnoch. Bob Templeton, who farms nearby, spoke for many when he referred to the 'resilience' of rural people. Though his cattle were saved he lost 2000 sheep. Thanks to compensation, he has been able to restock, as have others. Slowly things are getting back to where they were. While the debate continues over who was to blame for foot-and-mouth and how it should have been treated, the lesson for the those dependent on the land for their livelihoods, whether in agriculture or tourism, is that they all need one another. It is the only way to ensure that the show goes on.
Aug 11 02
No10 accused of hacking in to BBC news computerBy Andrew Alderson, Chief Reporter (Filed: 11/08/2002) The BBC has investigated allegations that Downing Street illegally hacked into its computer system in order to influence critical news items before they were broadcast.
John Simpson, the BBC's world affairs editor, claims in a new book that, on several occasions, reporters were telephoned by Government officials who tried to persuade them to temper bulletins that had not yet been transmitted.
Journalists at the BBC's west London newsroom were alarmed that Downing Street staff appeared to know about the contents of their reports in advance.
They reported their concerns to their editors who, in turn, investigated the apparent breaches of computer security.
The BBC was unable to prove that Government officials had hacked into its system but Mr Simpson says staff were "morally certain" it had happened.
Shortly afterwards the BBC replaced its newsroom computer system with a more secure one.
Two other senior BBC broadcasters have confirmed to The Telegraph that the investigations were conducted after Labour's 1997 election victory, at a time when tensions between the corporation and the Government were running high over the Labour Party's attempts to "manage" news coverage.
The inquiries centred on former BBC employees and whether they could still, using known passwords, obtain access to the newsroom computer system. Such computer hacking was made illegal by the Computer Misuse Act of 1990.
Simpson says in his book News From No Man's Land that one correspondent noticed that when he wrote a script on the newsroom computer for the next news bulletin "he would be rung up by Downing Street before it was broadcast and lobbied on a point or two".
"This didn't happen just once or twice," writes Simpson. "Downing Street has also rung up The World at One programme to complain about the items it was planning to run."
Simpson does not identify the journalists involved but claims that the tactics were part of widespread attempts by the Government to pressure the BBC and other broadcasters into more favourable coverage of its policies.
"Several colleagues are morally certain that it has happened," he writes.
Another BBC broadcaster said the corporation knew the identity of the hacker but lacked the evidence to make a complaint.
A Downing Street spokesman said: "This story is utterly ridiculous, complete drivel."
Aug 11 02
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